Fresh out of college and reeling from the failure of a marriage that had barely even begun, Marcus takes a teaching job in a tiny northern-Canadian native community. While struggling to grasp his own predicament, Marcus finds himself entangled in much larger community tragedies–the suicide of an aging priest and the death of two young students from exposure. But it is his discovery of the writings of Émile Petitot–a controversial nineteenth-century missionary Oblate priest, linguist and ‘explorer’–which finally threatens to unhinge Marcus, launching him on an obsessive quest for answers. In this novel, Susan Haley explores the troubled life and dubious claims of Father Petitot, whose fifteen years beneath the Arctic Circle were punctuated by scandal, delusional behaviour and episodes of outright madness and paranoia–problems which caused him to be shuffled from mission to mission, temporary excommunication and even forcibly hospitalized by the bishop. Haley’s binocular approach ruptures the normal historical perspective as she attempts to depict Petitot in all his complexity, both through the eyes of his Inuit and Cree contemporaries and through those of Marcus, who sifts through the written records of one man’s life in search for the truth about us all.
Émile Petitot was a French Catholic priest and Canadian explorer, a fluent speaker of the Dene languages and an early ethnographer.
However, the novel is really about the big lie we tell in the way we have written the history of Canada, leaving out of our accounts the story of sexual abuse.
Petitot was published by Gaspereau Press in Kentville, Nova Scotia.
Click here for an interview by Randy Henderson with Susan Haley on Yellowknife CBC Northbeat. Start the player at 46:33.
Susan Haley did a northern book tour across the Northwest Territories and Alberta to promote Petitot. Here is an article in the press.