Book Review of Sweat by Lesley Belleau

At the beginning of her novel, Lesley Belleau acknowledges missing and murdered Indigenous women, with a lovely dedication.

Belleau’s novel Sweat addresses the issues that come with the absence of women within a community and how their absence not only has an effect on their immediate family but the community as a whole, and all the generations that follow.

Her chapters weave within the spaces between fantasy and reality as it bounces between the perspectives of its two protagonists, Jolene and Beth. In it a woman falls down into the abyss, like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, memories resurface that try to engulf Jolene, knocking her about like rough waves and Beth creates a haunting painting that follows the reader throughout the novel.

Lesley Belleau structured the novel in a way that allows the chapters to connect to one another. Each character has their own story but these stories beautifully blend together, creating one large tapestry. A decision that Lesley seems to have made puposefully. It relates to the way in which she discusses the missing and murdered Indigenous women, as their absence becomes loose threads in the tapestry. Although these women may have never met, their lives are still connected. The absence of these women is haunting and the remaining motherless children, widowed husbands, broken sisters, mothers and daughters echo throughout Belleau’s novel Sweat.

Lesley Belleau is a participant in the Idle No More movement, which she mentions at the end of the novel. She mentions the organization through a dialogue between Beth and her two young sons Juno and Keith, who Beth has been educating on Indigenous culture and current issues facing the community in Canada. Belleau did a beautiful job of incorporating this cause into her novel, in a way that seemed natural, and at the same time was able to educate the reader on its importance.

The novel strongly focuses on the absence of mother’s but also discusses the death of children, in a way that is both haunting and heartbreaking.

The first being Beth’s painting of the dead babies, and the death of her infant son Daniel. The next being a scene with the death of children, and the cutting open of mother’s wombs on page.84 of the novel. It hauntingly echoes the events that happened within Residential Schools and during The 60s Scoop, in which children were stripped away from their mothers and the rest of the country turned a blind eye. There is another scene where the children’s wombs violently cut open by the doctors and the one doctor just sits and sips from his cup while looking at a picture of his own family.

There is a disconnection to the acts which have been committed and the guilt that the people who have committed them should have felt in this scene. It gives a strong sense of the treatment of Indigenous people. The brutality of it all…done with blinders over the eyes so that they don’t have to see the blood of innocence on their hands.

Art by Tristen Jenni Sanderson

Belleau’s novel can by found on Goodreads.

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