Brandon Reid’s new novel Beautiful Beautiful is a coming-of-age story that follows the journey of Derik Mormin, a twelve-year-old boy who is confronted by topics of Indigeneity, culture, and masculinity when travelling to Bella Bella for his grandfather’s funeral.
“Derik Mormin was my alias when I was really young,” says Reid. “And so when writing about a twelve-year-old, I went back to when I was Derik Mormin.”
Exploring identity and experience
Before commencing his journalism studies at Langara College, Reid began gravitating towards writing while working as a cook at a restaurant in downtown Vancouver. He found writing stories by hand while seated at a bus stop a relaxing interlude between catching the bus home at night.
“I was sort of trying to return to nature, I guess, to how things work. I didn’t want to be on my device the whole time”, Reid says. “I was inspired by Jim Morrison and Anthony Bourdain.”
Growing up in Richmond, British Columbia, Reid had ambivalent feelings about Western culture, and he strove to articulate that through the lens of his pubescent identity of Derik Mormin. Reid recollects how his Indigenous identity had often been magnified by the school system.
“I didn’t like being pulled out of class for being Indigenous and being singled out for being Indigenous,” says Reid. “I felt that I didn’t deserve to have special treatment for being Indigenous, which is still something that I do deal with nowadays.”
As an avid consumer of music and comedy, Reid’s novel incorporates lyricism and dark humour into the character of Redbird, the book’s narrator. Through Redbird, readers are invited to journey with Derik Mormin into new territory, cry with him as he experiences the immediacy of loss, and smile as he reconnects with his ancestry.
“I was using Redbird as an alias because I was scared to get persecuted,” says Reid. “But, then I started reading Jonny Appleseed and Five Little Indians, and I felt liberated in that sense to talk about those issues and even more so with Redbird.”
By writing through multiple perspectives, Reid merges Indigenous storytelling traditions through bird relatives with modernist techniques. Reid believes that by telling the story from different perspectives, readers can better apprehend its truth.
“I tried to convey a greater sense of the truth,” Reid says. “Rather than staying with one character who has one sense of the truth, it acts as a mosaic of perspectives, almost like a collage.”
Reid says the book’s title was inspired by the story’s setting in the home of the Heiltsuk First Nation of Bella Bella, meaning “beautiful beautiful.” While travelling to Bella Bella for the first time, Reid felt guided towards equanimity and closure.
“Vancouver is one thing, but going up to Bella Bella, the first thing I remember is the smell of the fresh air and the water,” says Reid. “There’s a desolation to it, and it’s a beautiful thing.”
At the same time as the novel reflects parts of Reid and the culture of Bella Bella, Reid explains that it does not intend to accurately depict a specific place or person in time. Instead, it pulls on the experiences of Reid, who once identified with the lost, sensitive, and beautiful soul of twelve-year-old Derik Mormin.
“He’s a tough kid, you know. He’s in karate. He has a good education, which is something that his ancestors didn’t really have,” says Reid. “It was definitely me mending my traumas and forgiving myself and my family.”
While Reid celebrates the fruition of his novel Beautiful Beautiful, which releases on Nov. 18, he is also deep into writing his next of hopefully many beautiful works of literature.
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