Four Wheel Drift


275 pages
ISBN 1-894345-52-5
DDC C813'.54






Reviewed by Douglas Ivison

Douglas Ivison is an assistant professor of English at Lakehead
University in Thunder Bay.


The latest collection by British Columbia writer Mel Dagg collects new
and previously published stories. They are united by a common interest
in characters on the margins and disappearing ways of life. Whether the
focus is on the dispossession of Native peoples or dying resource
industries, the characters in many of these stories are struggling to
survive as the world around them changes. The book is often, then, a
lament for what has been lost or is about to be lost.

Unfortunately, a tendency toward didacticism and largely unmemorable
characters render these stories less effective than might be expected.
The opening story, “The Museum of Man,” is a good example of the
collection’s flaws. Narrated by an assistant to an anthropologist who
is collecting Native artifacts for the Museum of Man, it critiques the
anthropologist’s obsession with collecting artifacts, his indifference
toward Native people themselves, and his resultant failure to appreciate
the true significance of these artifacts. The power of this critique is
muted by the fact that the anthropologist is nothing more than a
caricature, and the Native woman whose work he is collecting is not
really a fully realized character either.

At the centre of the collection are five linked stories that retell the
events of the Frog Lake Massacre in 1885. Told from the perspective of
two of the white survivors, Theresa Gowanlock and William Bleasdell
Cameron (both of whom had published their own accounts), these stories
successfully capture the bewilderment of individuals caught up in events
beyond their control. At the same time, they lack the vivid
characterization, epic reach, and mythic resonance that would have taken
them to another level.

Overall, Four Wheel Drift is a solid read, although of limited impact.
As might be expected with a collection of previously published works,
the book is not as cohesive as might be desired.


Dagg, Mel., “Four Wheel Drift,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024,