“Elegant and gritty, angry and funny. Staples’s work is emotional without being sentimental. Dennis unmakes something in us, then remakes it, a quilt of characters that embody this town, this place, which sleeps but doesn’t dream, or it is all a dream we want to wake up from with its characters.” —Tommy Orange, author of There, There
On an Ojibwe reservation called Languille Lake, within the small town of Geshig at the hub of the rez, two men enter into a secret romance. Marion Lafournier, a midtwenties gay Ojibwe man, begins a relationship with his former classmate Shannon, a heavily closeted white man. While Marion is far more open about his sexuality, neither is immune to the realities of the lives of gay men in small towns and closed societies.
Then one night, while roaming the dark streets of Geshig, Marion unknowingly brings to life the spirit of a dog from beneath the elementary school playground. The mysterious revenant leads him to the grave of Kayden Kelliher, an Ojibwe basketball star who was murdered at the age of seventeen and whose presence still lingers in the memories of the townsfolk. While investigating the fallen hero’s death, Marion discovers family connections and an old Ojibwe legend that may be the secret to unraveling the mystery he has found himself in.
Set on a reservation in far northern Minnesota, This Town Sleeps explores the many ways history, culture, landscape, and lineage shape our lives, our understanding of the world we inhabit, and the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of it all.
In this promising but slack debut, Staples depicts a Native American community with a haunted past and a bleak future. Marion Lafournier is a 26-year-old gay Ojibwe man, cynical and wry, who feels stuck in Geshig, a small reservation town in Minnesota that "crushes any form of ambition." He begins a clandestine affair with former prom king Shannon Harstad, who struggles to square his secret homosexuality with his conception of masculinity. While pursuing this fraught relationship, Marion encounters an otherworldly dog a manidoo, or revenant and follows him to the grave of Kayden Kelliher, a teenager murdered by another boy years earlier. Marion seeks to find out what the manidoo wants and why it has visited him in particular. A visit to a sweat lodge ceremony with a wonderfully rendered medicine man leads to the discovery that spirits are real, not a "stupid" superstition, and Kayden's ghost follows Marion through an investigation of his own family's history of violence and restless spirits. The novel's two strands, the desultory mystery and the romance, never fully gel, and neither generates quite enough suspense or emotional resonance. Staples, though, can be marvelously funny ("Good mothers don't give their sons marijuana. Great ones do"), and there are evocative tableaus of life in Geshig. This offers tantalizing glimpses of talent with a steady hand on mystical material.