In a debut that intertwines the spiritual and the cynical until both are left choking for air, Dennis E. Staples demonstrates a green but thrilling emerging talent. This Town Sleeps follows several residents of a northern Minnesota Ojibwe reservation, where tragedy has scarred the quiet town of Geshig. At 17 years old, basketball hero Kayden Kelliher is murdered, leaving behind an intricate net of characters grappling with the aftershocks of his loss years later. Among them is protagonist Marion Lafournier, a young gay Ojibwe man, who accidentally awakens Kayden's spirit in the form of a dog, known as a manidoo or revenant. Marion, skeptical of Indigenous faith and feeling stuck between his life in Geshig and what might await him elsewhere, begins to piece together the curse following his family--and its ramifications on his sense of self.
Although This Town Sleeps doesn't pack the full emotional punch it intends, Staples's tale of love, loss, anger, memory and identity is rendered in such keen prose that the setting seems sharp and alive--not, in fact, asleep. Of particular interest is Marion's secret romance with a closeted white man, who struggles to reconcile his attraction to Marion with his upbringing ("You're a north woods man, you don't do sh** with guys," this lover tells himself). The relationship never pays off in the way readers might wish, but perhaps that is Staples's point, and the subtlety with which he makes it is powerful enough to warrant a closer read. This is an imaginative, ambitious novel, a resounding argument that Staples is a writer to watch. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer