SKINS by Adrian C. Louis


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 Poet Louis debuts with a grim contemporary saga from South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation (where he teaches at Oglala Lakota College): a story full of brutality and whimsy, though so volatile a mix requires a greater talent than is revealed here. Rudy Yellow Shirt, longtime Pine Ridge policeman, is having a midlife crisis of epic dimensions--one exacerbated by the extreme poverty and degradation among his Oglala people. He's hypertensive, impotent; his wife is ready to leave him; and his job of rounding up winos--among them his brother--and investigating an unending string of murders and fatal accidents gives him no peace. When he hits his head on a rock while chasing rape-and-murder suspects, however, his life begins to change. A mental presence he calls the Avenging Warrior commits him to bursts of vigilante justice, leading him to break the knees of the murderers with a baseball bat and later to burn down a liquor store adjoining the reservation. His sex drive returns, too, but since his wife is already gone, he chases other women, including his cousin's wife. The cousin then conveniently drops dead, leaving nothing between Rudy and his desire, although first he has to put feelings for his soon-to-be- ex-wife behind him--which he does by raping her. Meanwhile, this dubious progress toward domestic harmony is complicated by the decline of older brother Mogie, Vietnam vet and star athlete turned permanent drunk, whom Rudy accidentally set on fire along with the liquor store. Mogie soon walks the spirit road when his liver fails, but not before the brothers are reconciled: at the close, Rudy will put his vengeful nature to rest by fulfilling Mogie's last request--pouring a bucket of red paint down Washington's face on Mount Rushmore. Not a pretty picture of reservation life, but even so the shock effects from both the violence and the humor are severely diluted by tin-eared dialogue and trite phrasing.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-517-79958-8
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1995