An obscure, overwrought, inauspicious first novel about the clashes and convergences of two extended families—pioneer and American Indian—on the Great Plains during the 19th century. The problems begin with the narrator. India Walker, a frontierswoman of Scottish descent, has just died as the story opens, and she speaks to the reader from her coffin. Perhaps it's because she is a spirit that her narrative seems to be a recitation of impressions and sentiments rather than of actions or experiences. (When speaking of her daughter, India tells us, ``I can see her future filled with reds and purples and blues and yellows, just as mine was.'') Although the concrete realities of the people in India's life are not ignored, they are not addressed in any systematic way, and it is with some difficulty that we learn that India's mother adopted Boy Found (an Indian child) and was given the Life Stone by Singing Bird (Boy Found's mother) as part of the bargain: ``The Life Stone . . . pulls in everything, everywhere, every ecstasy, every torment, and offers up each to its wearer bathed in lights, in truths, in colors too vivid, too exquisite to be either ignored or endured.'' India herself gets the Life Stone after her mother dies, but she keeps its meaning a secret from her husband, Jesse, as well as from the family she raises with him in Kansas during the Civil War, and (for reasons never made clear) she also tries to keep her daughter from coming into its possession in the end. Although India can give us intimations of a story here—the weird power the frontier exercises over its inhabitants, for example, and the common fates shared by those who live off the same land—nothing in the way of a plot manages to come together, and the aimlessness of this approach grows into an unrelieved annoyance. Incoherent and pretentious.
Read full book review >