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This Town Sleeps - A Novel - cover

This Town Sleeps - A Novel

Dennis E. Staples

Publisher: Counterpoint

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A powerful debut voice, Dennis Staples is a writer who Tommy Orange (author of There, There) urged Counterpoint to read and publish. And Counterpoint has a strong history of publishing important new writers with a long career ahead of them: Margaret Wilkerson Sexton, Abby Geni, and Rebecca Kauffman, to name but a few. 
This Town Sleeps is set in Northern Minnesota, and features gay (or Two Spirit) Ojibwe First Nations characters
Author Dennis Staples is a registered member of the Red Lake band of Ojibwe, and has studied the Ojibwe language his whole life. He self-identifies as gay and lives in Bemidji (buh-midge-ee), in the boundary waters of Northern Minnesota, between the Red Lake and White Earth reservations. He was a student of Tommy Orange, Derek Palacio, and Claire Vaye Watkins at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA), where he received his MFA
Staples' is a serious talent people will be reading and talking about for many years. He has an eye for detail that draws forth real emotional stakes in every immersive scene
This Town Sleeps is a mystery. It's a ghost story. It's an accounting for lives lived and lives robbed over lifetimes of oppression and suppression. And there is a jawbone you might never forget.  
 Staples will remind readers of Louise Erdrich, with some of her own fiction's exploration of queer, or Two-Spirit characters. And of course it will also draw comparisons to Tommy Orange's There, There—two debuts exploring 21st century Native life written by two male Native writers. Other's will be reminded of Garth Greenwell's debut, What Belongs to You, for the way This Town Sleeps explores a yearning melancholy and fully realized gay characters, and of Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's Friday Black for the way the spiritual elements of the characters' heritage appear not as jarring or otherworldly tropes, but as memories and messengers, inherited and long-suffered as so much of the trauma on the reservation is.
Lexile Measure: 770L

Bookseller Praise for This Town Sleeps

"This was so good! A little bit of mystery and a little slice of small town life." —Angela Schwesnedl, Moon Palace Books (Minneapolis, MN)

"This novel is about the people living on and around Ojibwe tribal lands in Minnesota and the restless spirit world that lives among them. I really liked the juxtaposition of the real world the characters lived in contrasting with the magic/spirit/ghost world around them . . . Gritty, sublime, weird." —Mimi Hannan, La Playa Books (San Diego, CA)

"It’s easy to say this is a book unlike any other I have read. Set in a small reservation town in Minnesota, it is in part a love story, but more than that, it is a meditation on culture, place, and identity. Staples uses two men hiding their love from their community as a catapult into this world. It is gripping and gritty. There is nothing expected from this work. Staples finds a way to take apart what a story like this should be and rearranges it into something that must be read to fully understand the beauty of it." —Adam Vitcavage, Changing Hands Bookstore (Phoenix, AZ)

"Staples unravels a haunting mystery through multiple narratives in a way that comes seamlessly together. Snapshots from several generations of Ojibwe folks are woven into the details of the murder of high school basketball star Kayden Kelliher—twelve years later, it seems his ghost still lingers, particularly revolving around twenty-seven-year-old Marion. Meanwhile, Marion begins falling for an old acquaintance from high school, a white man deep in the closet. This Town Sleeps may look fairly short in appearance, but there is so much in its contents—multifaceted characters, visual settings, and a gorgeously ghostly tone; masterfully written, especially for a debut novel."  —Andrew King, University Book Store (Seattle, WA) 

"What an amazing story. At first, I thought, I wonder where this is going? And then I couldn't put it down. It's a book that pulls me in, much as the Revenant did Marion. In particular, I was drawn to how the feel of being Native American in the Midwest truly feels for people, how histories intersect and how traditions and culture affect the people in the story. Finally, I liked the interweaving of fantasy—it felt real." —Theresa D-Litzenberger, A Book for All Seasons (Leavenworth, WA)

"Dennis E. Staples, in This Town Sleeps, marries the physical world to the spiritual world as Marion, a gay Ojibwe man, awakens a dog revenant connected to the death of a young man from Marion's past. As Marion struggles to connect with other out, gay men on his reservation and in the surrounding area, he finds himself drawn into a journey to discover why he feels so connected to Kayden Kelliher, a classmate who was murdered during their senior year of high school. His journey forces him to confront the reasons that, despite his feelings of discontent, he cannot seem to move away from his hometown and settle down with a man who is comfortable with his sexuality. This is a fascinating book with so much heart and soul." —Margaret Leonard, Dotters Books (Eau Claire, WI)

"An Ojibwe man struggles with questions from his past in this remarkable debut novel that reminds us of the rich oral traditions prevalent in Native American cultures. It all starts with a dog, a puppy being offered by a woman still burdened by the tragic death of her boyfriend years earlier. After the appearance of a spirit dog associated with the murdered boyfriend, Marion begins to wonder if his own life is entwined with the past. As an openly gay Ojibwe man, Marion is used to not hiding from truths that may make others uncomfortable. This allows him to see the connections between past and present, the spirit world and the ground underneath his feet. As Marion attempts to discover why he is being haunted and the connections to those he loves, we also hear the stories of others struggling to break the bonds of the past and expectations of others. Reminding us of the power of myth and the importance of dictating our own future, Dennis E. Staples has delivered a unique tale of enduring themes." —Luisa Smith, Book Passage (Corte Madera, CA)

"A really impressive debut novel combining issues of intersectionality and very relatable challenges of twentysomething life. It offers so many elements I love—emotional honesty, rural/small town quirks, outsider identity, and a dose of magic. I'm not done with these characters—I want more! I am already excited to see what Staples does next." —Candice Anderson, Tombolo Books (St. Petersburg, FL)

"Dennis E. Staples’s debut about life and afterlife on a northern Minnesota reservation is simultaneously expansive and economic, covering far more territory than most books of a similar size. Centered on Marion, a twentysomething returned from several years in the cities, This Town Sleeps explores the modern Native experience and navigates weighty topics—including isolation, addiction, abuse, and grief—but with a surprisingly light touch. Here, ghosts are literal, but they aren’t figures of pure menace; instead they serve as conduits to the past and perhaps as guideposts to the future." —Keith Mosman, Powell's Books (Portland, OR)

"It's like the author had this perfect narrative etched in frosted glass and shattered it on the floor. What's left is this book, splintered, fragmented and tragically gorgeous. The reader is introduced to an Ojibwe community where ghosts (both figurative and literal) hold tight to the members, rarely, if ever, letting them leave. Told mostly through the vantage point of a gay man who begins a secret affair with his old high school classmate, the book examines ideas of toxic masculinity, LGBTQ issues, paternity, opioid addiction, and everything else worth examining. It's like Tommy Orange's There There, except with gays and ghosts."   —Christine Bollow, BookBar (Denver, CO)

"This Town Sleeps is a lively, outstanding first novel. Told by a young gay Ojibwe man living in a small reservation town, it vividly details life between two worlds, weaving mythology into the realities of everyday life with beauty and honesty. If you liked Fredrik Backman's Beartown, you'll love This Town Sleeps!" —Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books (Grand Rapids, MI)

"This Town Sleeps is wonderful. It reminded me of the way I felt the first time I read Louise Erdrich and experienced something wholly new. I was transported, tethered to the characters, and unsettled in the best way." —Stephanie Jones-Byrne, Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe (Asheville, NC)

"This Town Sleeps is the must-read of early 2020! Dennis E. Staples has presented something fresh and magical with just enough sinister forces working to keep you turning the page for more. This very contemporary story is full of small town drama and deeply flawed characters who seek and deserve love. It is a fantastic debut, and I can't wait to see what he does next!" —Meghan Hayden, River Bend Bookshop (Glastonbury, CT)

"A decade-old murder on an Ojibwe reservation begins to haunt Marion, a Ojibwe man newly out to his family and friends who is also simultaneously trying to have a real relationship with a local white man, Shannon (who refuses acknowledge his own sexuality), half-heartedly get back in touch with his spirituality and family, and figure out how to flee the hometown to which he very recently returned from the cities. Trauma's lingering impact across generations—not only in a family, but also in a tight-knit community—is what pushes Marion to revisit the night of Kayden Kelliher's death in order to better understand what happened to Kayden and how his murder continues to have an effect on Marion, his mother, the mother of Kayden's child, the mother of Kayden's murderer, and many others. Told primarily through Marion's perspective, the book also spends paragraphs and chapters dipping in and out of the interior lives of the people surrounding Marion, making this more a story about the town than it is about one man's experiences within it. Through his vividly real characters, Staple raises the age-old unanswerable questions about what we owe one another and what we owe ourselves. This town will stick with me for a long time." —Anna Weber, White Whale Bookstore (Pittsburgh, PA) 

"The backbone of this narrative is one Ojibwe man's romance with a former classmate of his, a closeted, white man, but there is so much more to This Town Sleeps. Modest in its length and flashiness, it's an honest look at reservation life across multiple generations and an exploration of the repercussions of our actions—sometimes tragic, sometimes uplifting, sometimes funny, but always heartfelt, sincere, and beautiful. The comps to Tommy Orange's There There are apt and justified." —Lane Jacobson, Paulina Springs Books (Sisters, OR) 

"Set in a small, rural town in upper Minnesota, this debut novel by Ojibwe author Dennis E. Staples is a powerful story full of heart. Being a gay man in a small town is not easy for Marion. But it's even harder for the man he falls in love with, who is not out and is clinging to his idea of what a strong, white outdoorsman should be. But Marion is searching for something, too—a way out of this small town and off the rez for good, a way forward in life, and answers to the deep family secrets that have spanned generations. This thoughtful debut is raw with emotion. I'm looking forward to its release in March." —Jamie Rogers Southern, Bookmarks (Winston-Salem, NC)

"This Town Sleeps, set on an Ojibwe reservation in northern Minnesota, is not an elegiac or idyllic work but rather a direct, unblinking, poetic novel that draws the reader inexorably on into the gray areas of the hearts of those in this story. Queer coming-of-age story bound up in a town mystery, this tale of Marion Lafournier, a young gay Ojibwe man, is a compelling debut by Dennis E. Staples, an author whose voice and storytelling will be appreciated in so many ways in years to come." —Christine Havens, BookPeople (Austin, TX) 

"This is the story of a young gay man straddling being part of both the reservation and the Native old ways and the small town life in northern Minnesota. He faces the hardships of small town life—including alcoholism and poverty—figuring out how to live in both worlds at once. His family is accepting of his sexuality, but he still makes bad choices, and the novel explores the realities of being gay on the rez. This book weaves between different characters in the town, showing the complexity and desperations of their situation. The Native culture explored in the novel gives a spiritual hope that the white Minnesotan culture doesn't—maybe there's more to life than the present." —Sandi Torkildson, A Room of One's Own Bookstore (Madison, WI)

"Marion is haunted. By his hometown, hub of a northern Minnesota Ojibwe reservation. By the spirit of a childhood legend. By the boys of his youth, now men afraid of themselves and their desire. By a murder that cracked the foundations of a community as tightknit as family. And Staples opens up the novel to the community’s voices to inform the communal history of Geshig, Minnesota, and remind us that one man’s story is never just his own. But in the end, it’s Marion who must put several spirits to rest if he’s ever going to be at peace with the place he comes from. This Town Sleeps might just answer to the question: who will write the great gay Ojibwe gothic novel?" —Chris Lee, Boswell Book Company (Milwaukee, WI)

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