Love, politics, and toxicity in the Yukon

Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit 
by Nadine Sander-Green 

Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2024
$23.99 / 9781487011291

Reviewed by Joe Enns


Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit, by Kimberley-raised Calgarian Nadine Sander-Green, carves out an interesting landscape through the interplay of relationships, language, politics, territory, and geography at the limits of society: the northern “end of the road” in the Yukon. 

Sander-Green’s debut novel tells the story of Millicent, an eager and impressionable young writer who moves to Whitehorse for an entry-level newspaper reporter position at the Golden Nugget. While the story begins with Millicent’s struggle to fit in as an inexperienced reporter—“the shame of her naïveté filled her gut”—in a new region, it soon shifts to her fast-developing, and increasingly toxic, romantic relationship with Pascal, an eccentric middle-aged French Canadian who lives in a camperized school bus. 

At work Millicent follows politics and human-interest stories. She discovers Whitehorse as a region in a waning but ongoing gold rush surrounded by aged elements of society from more prosperous times—noting, for instance, “a graveyard of computer chairs”—and infrastructure damaged by harsh conditions: “the highway was already damaged… the thawing earth would damage it again.” Millicent finds that everyone is affected by the climate and geography. And by isolation. As her friend Sophie says, “People up here do surprising things when they’re away from the rest of society.”

Millicent’s role as a political reporter works well to reveal multiple perspectives on complex ethical issues, especially environmental, and Sander-Green shows overlapping and contrasting political opinions and values with some degree of nuance. During the first half of the novel, Millicent covers a provincial election, which pivots around plans to develop a gold mine on important Caribou habitat along an area known as The Vista in the Gwich’in peoples’ traditional territory. Caribou is an important resource for the Gwich’in, which prompts Charlie, a Gwich’in community member, to run for Premier against Jakowsky, the incumbent. 

Millicent witnesses the will of the public to protect the land, but also the fear around needing work, and how competing interests lead to voter apathy. History continually repeats, and Millicent strives to fairly capture the story while under tight daily deadlines, often sacrificing thoroughness for efficiency.

Throughout Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit, Sander-Green depicts how the characters’ bodies are affected by a frigid atmosphere where “the air had an edge, like a blade slicing into her lungs.” And the author often intersects the inner landscape with the outer (eg, “the land seemed to have calmed her”) as she highlights the epic beauty and seasonality of the North. 

Underlying the narrative is a theme that points to the harshness of nature contrasted by comfort, represented appropriately by a gold motif—“the leaves had turned honey-yellow softening the land”—and frequently in reference to the manufactured: “a table made of gold-coloured hardwood.” 

Author Nadine Sander-Green (photo: Allison Seto)

Sander-Green also layers that gold with a red motif—“blood ran through her veins like champagne,” for instance—but perhaps to a fault. 

Red is referenced constantly throughout Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit such that if you had to guess the colour of any item mentioned in the novel, you’d be correct most of the time if you guessed red (second place if you guessed gold). Millicent’s coworker, Bryce, rides a “vintage red Norco;” Sophie’s door is red; Sophie also has a “red velvet chaise lounge”; the spray paint on Pascal’s bus is in red letters; and Millicent wears red underwear. If there’s a deeper symbology behind the redness, it may be diluted by the barrage of references. 

Similarly, while Sander-Green illustrates the impacts of the landscape on the bodies of the characters—and for Millicent the effect of her emotions inside her body—this too can grow excessive.

Almost every time Millicent feels something, the emotion is described as a slicing or burning: a “sharp stone had lodged in the back of her throat” or “burning lump in her throat.” There were so many cutting and fiery sensations to the throat and chest that I thought maybe she suffered from acid reflux. Even so, the visceral nature of these descriptions immerses the reader in Millicent’s bodily reactions to stressful events.

The narrative in Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit weaves effectively between different paths of tension. When the election narrative seems to wind down, Millicent’s relationship with Pascal ramps up, which keeps the reader invested. 

The relationship becomes the main conflict for Millicent, though it takes quite a few chapters to start. This works well to draw out the tension. When Millicent becomes involved with Pascal, Sander-Green effectively conveys the relationship as a sort of hypothermia—“stage-one hypothermia…after a few minutes you can’t feel anything”—and that fits with the Yukon winter setting, where there’s “No Swimming, Dangerous Current.” 

Millicent becomes slowly frozen by the presence of Pascal and eventually numb to everything. The gradual degradation of her independence and self is shown as an out-of-body experience, “a desire to be outside of her own body, to be anyone but herself.” Pascal’s pet name for her is “Rabbit,” which becomes derogatory and dominating; he’s the wolf, she’s the rabbit. The reference may also connect to the title, in reference to a superstitious phrase meant to bring good luck. Sander-Green delves into how the complexity of a toxic relationship begins with a dazed elation, but quickly moves towards isolation, all amplified by the harsh northern climate.

The characters in Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit struggle with a desire for happiness and full potential. Each has a cause and attempts to step into a new routine outside themselves. Sander-Green details how this evolution requires a clear view on life and the land. The theme of obscured vision—for instance, “the windshield had so many cracks Millicent had to slump in her seat to get a clear view”—and unrealized dreams is contrasted by the clarity of the land as represented by the Vista, a symbol of open views and reciprocity with nature. The Vista represents an unsullied view on life and connection to ancient ways of existence that are threatened by modern politics and economy.

Through Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit, Sander-Green pulls together many intriguing and image-rich threads that portray what it’s like to inhabit a remote pocket of Canadian society. The novel weaves together familial and romantic relationships; landscape and climate; art and culture; all in the context of history and a striving for the future. The Golden Nugget “is on its deathbed,” and Millicent wonders what that means for democracy. Millicent also desires to write poetry, as “poetry was just the closest thing to the truth” for her; and characters return to discussions of journalism and art. 

Sander-Green also relates the characters as consumers of other literature and music (a clichéd perspective in the case of Pascal). These descriptions place the characters in a broader idea of a colonial culture even all the way up north. Sander-Green’s complex characters in Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit strive for new lives with meaningful art, happiness, and a purpose just out of reach as they etch their own bylines into the Yukon’s epic geography.


Joe Enns

Joe Enns is a writer, painter, and fisheries biologist on Vancouver Island. His writing has appeared in The Dalhousie Review, FreeFall, The Fiddlehead, GUSTS, and Portal Magazine, and book reviews in The Malahat Review and The British Columbia Review. Joe has a BA in Creative Writing and a BSc in Ecological Restoration. [Editor’s note: Joe has reviewed Spenser Smith, Rodney DeCroo, Barbara Pelman, Karl Meade, M.W. Jaeggle, Ali Blythe, Emily Osborne, Will Goede, and Evelyn Lau for BCR.]


The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-25: Trevor Marc Hughes (nonfiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an online book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

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