The Grass Dancer by Susan Power
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a book I would have never picked out for myself. It was chosen for book club. It's a well-written collection of short stories centered around central characters who have stories woven around each other and lives layered over lives. Despite the short stories in a novel format, I found this to be a quick and intriguing read. Be warned though, it isn't a happy book. The stories are dark and sad - as one of the club members put it "in each story someone either dies or gets laid, or both".
It did bring an awareness of cultural differences between Native Americans and whites that I didn't really think of before.
Synopsis: Power has produced an authentic portrait of Native American culture and characters who are as resilient and tangible as the grass moving over the Great Plains. In interconnected stories that begin in 1981 and range back to 1864, the residents of a Sioux reservation endure poverty, epidemic illness, injustice and--no less importantly--jealousy, greed, anger and unrequited love. The tales begin and end with Harley Wind Soldier, a 17-year-old whose soul is a ``black, empty hole'' because his mother has not spoken a word since the accident 17 years earlier in which Harley's father and brother died. Eventually we discover the true circumstances surrounding that event and other secrets--of clandestine love affairs, of childrens' paternity--that stretch back several generations but hold a grip on the present. Meanwhile, Harley falls in love with enchanting Pumpkin, an amazingly adept grass dancer whose fate will make readers gasp. Mercury Thunder and her grand-daughter Charlene use magic in a sinister way, and tragedy results. Herod Small War, a Yuwipi (interpreter of dreams), tries to bring his community into harmony with the spiritual world. The existence of ghosts in the real world is accepted with calm belief by the characters, who know the old legends and understand that the direction of their lives is determined by their gods and ancestors. Power weaves historical events--the Apollo Moon landing; the 19th-century Great Plains drought--into her narrative, reinforcing the seamless coexistence of the real and the spirit realm. A consummate storyteller whose graceful prose is plangent with lyrical metaphor and sensuous detail, she deftly uses suspense, humor, irony and the gradual revelation of dramatic disclosures to compose a tapestry of human life. Seduced by her humane vision and its convincing depiction, one absorbs the traditions and lore of the Sioux community with a sense of wonder reflecting that with which the characters view the natural world. This is a book that begs to be read at one sitting, and then again.
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