WINTER COUNT by Barry Holstun Lopez

WINTER COUNT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Nine short sketches, more or less autobiographical, with Lopez (Of Wolves and Men, River Notes) remembering bits of scholarship or personal experience that resonated for him in some quasi-mystical way. Best are the most history-related anecdotes, in which the often-overwrought Lopez prose is agreeably subdued: a North Dakota visit with a man who's restoring the extraordinary book collection of a 19th-century French landowner-visitor (the Frenchman's apparent feeling for animals as ""owners of the landscape"" is the grabber for Lopez); an affirmation of Indian legends about the mass death of two buffalo herds that went out singing a ""death song"" (when Lopez camped out in the buffalo-death area, he ""awoke in the morning to find my legs broken""); and reflections on an historian who contended that a Nebraska river disappeared. When Lopez starts getting emotionally involved, however, the narration tends to be stickier: a night with a serene loner in a windy valley where stones lift off the ground and arc across the sky; reactions to a family-owned tapestry in a Madrid museum (""I felt rid of the daunting exhortation to examine life which had hung in the air since my father's death""). And the most developed, short-story-like efforts here tangle up thin ideas with clunkily verbose strivings for eloquence: metaphorical musings on an urban romance (the northern lights are ""that Tai-chi extension of otherly grace"". . . ""he flowed again so he seemed as she always remembered him, generous and surrounded by a haunting reverence""); a story about meeting a seashell-loving soulmate and feeling ""it was possible to let go of a fundamental anguish""; a portrait of a word-loving Mexican gardener (""there was a haunting quietude both inside and outside him, and in the penumbra of this order one might have expected wild beasts to be as tractable as daffodils""); and the tale of a professor delivering a paper on Indian tribal history while brooding on his own miserable existence. Overall, then: strained and skimpy on substance-minor ruminations for Lopez devotees only.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1981
ISBN: 0679781412
Publisher: Scribners