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Reviews / May 27, 2019

Split Tooth

Tanya Tagaq, Viking Canada, 208 pp., $29.95

This debut novel from Polaris Prize–winning composer and Inuk contemporary throat singer Tanya Tagaq is a masterpiece that sings to the legacies of trauma and magic carved into the bones of an unnamed Inuk girl as she navigates her most transformative years in Nunavut, during the 1970s.

In this haunting coming-of-age story, Tagaq reveals the aching of adolescence by weaving together traditional stories, poetry and prose to create a piece of work that defies conventional definition. Within the first few pages, you realize the vicious, unabatingly honest and concise nature of Tagaq’s voice. As a reader, you become witness to visceral depictions of the traumas faced by the protagonist from a young age, and to her realizations that the femme body is one of prey and also one of predation. Tagaq’s use of sexuality is multifaceted—seamlessly subversive and subtle. She shares candid and detailed visual descriptions of dreamscapes and fox fellatio (“his scent penetrated me, travelling down my esophagus and leaving warmth in my throat and paving a highway into my belly”)—visions of longing and lust. Tagaq also writes with softness, of the protagonist’s pleasure as her unborn twins “suck up the joy” of her orgasms after sticking both hands in her vagina while preparing to birth them. These scenes remind the reader that the worldmaking of pleasure within soft moments can still exist after the shockwaves of sexualized violence. The duality of sexual desire and pain is beautifully written, among other stories of food scarcity, addiction, magic and adolescent wonderment, all within a fly-in community in Nunavut.

Tagaq’s unique use of narrative structure and her earthshaking voice made this one of the best books of 2018. And while she continues to perform, organize and advocate, Split Tooth is proof that she is a powerhouse in all avenues of her rightfully celebrated career.

This is an article from our Spring 2019 issue, “SPACETIME.”

Arielle Twist

Arielle Twist is a Nehiyaw, Two-Spirit, multidisciplinary artist from George Gordon First Nation, SK, now based in Halifax. In 2019, she received the Indigenous Artist Recognition Award from Arts Nova Scotia and was a University of Victoria Chair in Transgender Studies Fellow.