Anna Marie Sewell's Humane is an Indigenous crime novel that plays with magic realism and genre
Anna Marie Sewell is a Fredericton-born poet and author of Mi'gmaq, Anishinaabe and Polish heritage. Her crime novel Humane features the protagonist Hazel Lesage, a Métis mother of two who works as an unlicensed private investigator.
Humane plays with the structure of the traditional crime novel to tell a story that features magical realism as Hazel embarks on a case to solve the disappearance of an Indigenous woman named Nell.
Sewell spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Humane.
Someone to help
"Hazel is a listener. Some people are listeners and Hazel finds that people will talk to her — they don't always know why they'll talk to her, but they do and start asking her to help with this or that thing.
"Hazel observes things and she sometimes finds a way for people. She's got this sideline — and she fell into it just by being willing to listen to people."
Of mixed heritage
"I thought that it would be good to not have to worry about the cultural background of the main characters. I know Hazel's cultural background, because it's mine. I wanted to talk about the reality that a lot of people in Canada are mixed, one way or another — and we still talk about being purely this or purely that or identifying with such a culture.
I thought that it would be good to not have to worry about the cultural background of the main characters.
"So many of us are of mixed heritage — mixed people living a mixed life. It's a globalized world that they inhabit. That's our world, too. Being up front with that allowed me to have the characters get on with their lives, which is what I found most useful in my life, too.
"'You are who you are; get on with it.' This is our family motto."
Being in-between spaces
"The idea of being in-between spaces represent the stories that I grew up with. The people that I love most in the world, both family and chosen family and friends, they all understand that. It's usually the kind of thing that you'll only talk about late at night.
Someone said to me, 'Is this book magic realism?' Some might call it that.
"I used to not sleep as a kid because my father's cousins would come over and would start talking about these stories. I wanted to pay tribute to that — but in a way that hopefully isn't going to keep people from sleeping at night.
"Someone said to me, 'Is this book magic realism?' Some might call it that. I just think of it as 'real' realism, because most of the people I know, on some level, understand that there are dimensions beyond what we know. Physics tells us this: that we are only perceptive of a certain band of colours We see what we see — and some of us can see beyond that."
Anna Marie Sewell's comments have been edited for length and clarity.