“Some stories come your blood. They move beyond the telling or the showing and come to rest inside you. Invade you. Inhabit you. Like there was a secret crevice in your being that it took the tale to fill. That is what the movie was like”
Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese was written in 2009 preceding both Indian Horse and The Medicine Walk. The novel tells the stories of four homeless individuals, their street names – One For the Dead, Digger, Double Dick and Timber – who have all run away from their lives after tragedy and despair. They are rounders, homeless people that support each other and come together each day looking out for each other like family.
During a severe cold snap the foursome seeks the warmth of a movie theatre. To their surprise, they not only appreciate the warmth but fall in love with the stories within the films sharing discussion and evaluation of the movies afterwards. At the theatre they meet Granite, a retired journalist who is dealing with his own issues. Initially, he is hesitant to engage with the ‘ragged company’ who sit near hime and quietly drink from their bottles during he movies. Slowly they all become friends and develop respect for each other.
The foursome discovers a lottery ticket in a discarded cigarette package and much to their surprise win 13.5 million dollars. Without identification they turn to Granite to accept the prize on their behalf and to assist them to deal with the aftermath and impact of their win. He assists with the media questions, setting up accounts and helping them manage their winnings.
Each member of the ragged company struggle with their newfound wealth, the dramatic change to their lives and the demons of their pasts. As they each deal with their improved circumstances, they slowly reveal their past histories, sharing their tears, heartache and loss with each other. Money cannot fix the problems of the past or make them happy but they continue to share their love of movies as they live together, helping and supporting each other.
Ragged Company provides gritty insight into the lives of homeless people. It provides a different perspective on how individuals may end up living on the street. As I walk by homeless people, I will think of this novel and feel that the novelist’s own experience living on the street, dealing with his abusive foster family and own addiction challenges have provided a true reflection on the difficult lives of homeless individuals. I admire Wagamese who, despite his own difficult past, is able to share this understanding through his beautiful prose which he attributes to libraries. He helps readers reconsider their own judgement and knowledge of issues such as homelessness, alcoholism, residential schools and the meaning of family which are prevalent in his novels. I have said it in previous reviews but I truly believe he is an author that all Canadian’s should read and his books should be added to high school curriculum – if you just pick one of his novels, I cannot stop raving about The Medicine Walk!
“…maybe leaned more in favour of this types of stories that reach inside you, touched something that you hadn’t touched for a long time, and reminded you of the soft moments where you really came to be who you are.”