Kiss of the Fur Queen


310 pages
ISBN 0-385-25652-3
DDC C813'.54





Reviewed by Beverly Rasporich

Beverly Rasporich is an associate professor in the Faculty of General
Studies at the University of Calgary and the author of Dance of the
Sexes: Art and Gender in the Fiction of Alice Munro.


This first novel by Canadian Cree playwright Tomson Highway, celebrated
for the award-winning play The Rez Sisters, is a powerful story about
two Native brothers, Jeremiah and Gabriel, who are plucked from their
home in northern Manitoba, where their father is a trapper, and sent to
Catholic residential schools, where they become victims of sexual abuse.
Notwithstanding the author’s claim that “all the characters and what
happens to them are fictitious,” Jeremiah is a talented pianist and
Gabriel is a beautiful man and an aspiring dancer, not unlike Highway
and his own brother.

Highway’s trademark humor prevents the mood from becoming truly
despairing. Reminiscent of his Rez people is Annie Moostos, who plays
her comic part by whitening her one tooth in preparation for the boys’
homecoming. Highway’s lyricism, too, contributes to a poetic
sensibility that lifts the fiction away from gross physical realities.
In fact, in some ways this novel can be read as romantic.

One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is the connection that
Highway makes between the religious ideology and practices of Roman
Catholicism and sexual abuse. This is subtly done and raises the
question of whether such a link exists only in Jeremiah’s imagination,
given his experiences, or if there is an actual, broader philosophical
and psychological correspondence between, for example, the act of
communion and oral sex.

At times, the novel seems more the work of a dramatist than a
sophisticated novelist. Gabriel in particular seems a stage figure.
Presented from the outside, he plays his part without revealing much
about either his interior world or his feelings about his brother.

The mixture of tragic and comic elements in The Rez Sisters puzzled
some critics who were apparently unfamiliar with the Native worldview,
which embraces both elements simultaneously. Kiss of the Fur Queen
similarly contravenes certain Western literary conventions. However, The
Rez Sisters played beautifully and successfully on stage, and this novel
is, in its own way, a tour de force and absolutely demands to be read.


Highway, Tomson., “Kiss of the Fur Queen,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 13, 2024,