Emery Matawipit is a seminarian who is very close to becoming a priest. He grew up on the Ojibway reservation in Canada, but has been away studying for ten years. Upon hearing of trouble at the church he was raised in, Emery rushes back to the reservation to help. When he arrives, he encounters his childhood best friend, Darryl Keejik. Of course, Darryl is far more than Emery’s friend. He’s his first (and only) love…and the man he ran away from.
Darryl was broken after Emery left. He lost his true love and he blames not only Emery, but Emery’s father, the Deacon of Christ the King, the reservation’s Catholic church. Darryl is now a member of the Band Council (reservation government) and he isn’t sure the tribe should continue to give funds to the church, especially because the Catholic church (and Canadian government) is responsible for a dark time in the tribe’s history. Native children were taken from their families and forced into Indian Residential Schools…places where the children were basically tortured in order to convert them.
Now that Emery and Darryl are together on the reservation, they are on opposite sides of the battle between the traditional tribal beliefs and the dogma of the Catholic church. However, they realize their feelings for each other have never really gone away. Now, not only do they have to deal with the people they work for and their families, they have to decide whether Emery should leave the church he loves so he and Darryl can be together. Any decision they make will make a huge impact on their future. What will the men do, and how far are they willing to go?
When I read the blurb for Blessed, I was interested right away. Thanks to my father, I am sort of a history buff, especially when it comes to religion and indigenous tradition. I decided to give the book a chance, and while I liked the book, I found it to be overwhelming. I felt like I was in way over my head. It was looooooong and very detailed. In fact, I’m going to say there may have been too much detail. The subject matter is rather heavy, and certainly a history lesson in tribal tradition and Catholicism needed in order to understand what was happening and what was at stake. However, I found myself feeling lost. I wanted to skim quite a bit, and I hate to skim. It wasn’t even that I only wanted to get to the “good parts,” I just wanted to simply move on. Now, I’m not saying the subject matter wasn’t interesting. It was. I’ve even been googling and reading about it, but it was too much detailed information for me.
Emery and Darryl were good men, but I wouldn’t consider them to be strong men. Both had an enormous amount of responsibility on their backs. They wanted to please people at the expense of their own happiness. Emery was on his way to becoming a priest, but he was essentially being forced into it by his family. He was 27 years old, but was being treated like a child…and allowing it to happen. Frankly, I was annoyed by him. Darryl was surly and brooding. I didn’t feel connected with him (or Emery either). In fact, I felt rather neutral about him. I cared, but just not as much as I thought I should.
Emery and Darryl did have a certain chemistry. Even with the tension they were under, they were able to somewhat easily fall into a friendship. The sexual tension was there through everything, though…a touch…a whisper…a three-day vision quest. It seemed to me Darryl was a little sex obsessed, though. He had issues with Emery’s vow of celibacy. It turned me off a bit. I wanted to grab him and yell, “Just because you don’t understand doesn’t mean you have the right to insult!”
There is a lot going on in Blessed. I had to fight to keep it all straight. There were a significant number of background characters that were important to the story, and I had a hard time remembering who was who and what role they were playing. This isn’t to say they were unnecessary. However, I did have to go back and reread several passages to know who had what relationship to either Emery or Darryl.
I don’t want to give away a lot of the plot because it’s a fundamentally good story. The cultural clashes between traditionalists and Catholics is compelling. The tragedy of the residential schools versus the belief the church is a source of comfort and healing is also interesting. The love story almost played second fiddle to these topics. I found myself longing to read about just Emery and Darryl. They spent a fair amount of time together, but it still felt fleeting. Blessed is quite erotic, and I loved the sex scenes, but I would have loved to see more of what the men were like when they had a chance to be free from such crushing responsibility.
The last quarter of the book was intense. Everything began to come together, and when I say “everything,” I mean it. There’s a lot of conflict, and it all came to a head, and then…it was over. It wrapped up neatly, but perhaps too neatly. Certainly, the story needed a happy ending after all that had happened, and I was pleased, but it was almost like that pleased feeling you get after you’ve ridden the most awesome rollercoaster, only to have it slow down and come into a stop at the station. It felt like I was finally able to settle down after being uncomfortable for two days. I didn’t not like Blessed. Please don’t think that. I am actually going to recommend it, but I’m going to do it with some advice. Prepare for deep subject matter that is occasionally frustrating. Also, give Emery and Darryl the benefit of the doubt because they do want what’s best for everyone…the tribe, their families, and each other. This is the first story in a series, and I’ll say I would have no problem reading the next installment. It’s long, but it’s promising.