Contemporary Fiction Spotlight: THE HELPER by M. N. SNow

The Helper combines contemporary, magical realism/speculative fiction with an ambiguous spirituality.  Two parts Stephen King and Dean Koontz, one part Dennis Lehane/Mystic River, the story explores relationships between lovers, friends, families, and what Powers of Good there may be.  The novel travels from the gritty Lake Superior port-cities and Indian Reservations of northern Wisconsin to the Jewish neighborhoods of North Miami Beach, Florida—from Parris Island to the war zones of Kuwait and Afghanistan.

The Helper is the story of John Sloan, a Marine Corps veteran with a life-long secret that is haunting him.  He is a conduit to a healing light that draws him to people on the brink of emotional disintegration, people who are then healed and Helped by this light.  His blue-collar world is shattered when he finds that his connection to this anonymous portal has vanished.  He is alone, seemingly beyond aid, and in desperate need of a Helping himself.

The book tracks the intersecting lives of John and two other Helpers.  His lifelong friend Dusty Hakalla is a mixed-blood Ojibwe, with a secret of his own.  His power to help is remarkable, but was once destructively misused.  A career Marine, his scarred childhood and momentary abuse of power have left him jaded and bereft.  Deena Morrison, also a Helper, is John’s girlfriend.  Adopted as an infant, she flees John to find her birth-mother, while carrying within herself her own secret.  Another character shadows their lives as narrator, Nan’b’oozoo, the trickster god of Ojibwe legend—at times sarcastic and petulant, at others insightful and humorous.


Excerpt from The Helper

…Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
Restore me to the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51, verses 11 and 12.


I’m the Helen Keller man, staring at the sky.
Helen Keller man, don’t know how or why.
Am I who I think I am, or am I just a lie?

lyrics from “Helen Keller Man” by Velva Scourge


Hi I’m Greg and I’m back from Honduras.
I was down there teachin’ little kids to kill.

lyrics from “He Said, He Said” by Mortal Engines.



 Coyote peered through the bushes and watched the scene unfold.  The four legged Trickster knew the humans needed his help.  He just didn’t know if he wanted to give it.  They could certainly use it, but would it be the best for all concerned?  And, would helping them provide him with the most satisfaction?  He would just have to watch and wait, as they would.  Helping, hurting, hot and cold, part god, part animal.  The Trickster.

The Ojibwe, or Chippewa, of northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Canada didn’t have a Trickster that walked on all fours.  Nope, theirs stood upright on two legs.  Part god, part human. Many of the tribe thought this a better figure, more appropriate given the Trickster’s nature.  Especially the human part.  Prone to fits of anger, jealousy and resentment.  Able to alter events in a way that only a god could, but given to episodes of what can only be described as Trickster-ness.  That could only be described as, well, human.

His name is Nana’b’oozoo.  A child of the heavens and of the earth, growing up parent-less.   Some of the Ojibwe People went so far as to describe him as Jesus-like. After they had found out who Jesus was, that is.  Before that time he was only, as he still is, Nana’b’oozoo.  God and man, together as one, walking the earth.  With god-like talents and human traits.  Said not without a certain amount of pride, especially when compared to the four legged Legend of southwestern and western tribes.  Not an animal like theirs, but a man.  Upright, on two legs, just like us.  Pride not an emotion limited to gods.  But a Trickster is as a Trickster does, and so they shall.  And so shall we.

People fail and people fall.  Often noticed, quite often unnoticed.  A story as old as time.  A story as old as stories.  As likely to happen today as it was in the time before time.  And if you think tragic surrenders and mythic tribulations happened only in the past, you are truly mistaken.  One need only look at tonight’s network news or read today’s newspaper.  There are people plummeting from sight every second, often taking others with them.  Heck, you only need cast your glance as far as the cubicle next to yours, or peer across the factory floor to see the possibilities.  How much do you really know about those people?  Do you think that it is not going on around you even at this moment?  When a county worker in Florida goes on a rampage and takes three people down with him, do you think that is fiction?  When a postal worker or a high school student or even that traffic-jammed driver ahead of you snaps and takes it out on those surrounding him, do you think that is fiction?  Let me clear something up right now.  That tree philosophers talk about, you know, the one falling in the woods?  I’m here to tell you that just because you’re not there to hear it, it still makes a sound.  Quite often the sickening sound of that very same tree squashing an innocent passerby.  Do not doubt that for a moment.

And yet, sometimes that falling tree, for seemingly no reason at all, does not hit the ground.  Sometimes it is brought back upright, before it hits.  Before the destruction occurs, it finds itself standing straight, and taller than before, having been helped by a force or forces unseen.  Again, do not doubt me for a moment, it happens.

This last reality makes up hope for the eyes peering through the bushes.  We know they are there, we have seen both sides of the outcome far too many times to doubt it.  The eyes are there and they can help us.  The question is, the hope is, will they help us?

Many, many times people fall and fall hard.  And sometimes they are Helped.


About the Author

M. N. SNow’s bio includes years as a public radio host and anchor, primarily in the south Florida market, but also for Wisconsin Public Radio.  M. N. has had various short stories published and was a contributing writer for Reader Weekly, in Duluth, MN.  M. N. is also a published cartoonist and a former Marine Corps NCO.  The author is currently living in Key West, FL.


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