Red Corn’s debut, the 44th volume in the American Indian Literature Series, is an unusual but flat tale of oil wealth and a string of mysterious fatal accidents among the Osage tribe in the 1920s. In the midst of an ongoing oil boom that has made all his tribe wealthy, aspiring artist John Grayeagle has been living with his grandpa near Pawhuska, Oklahoma, after his parents were killed in a car wreck. When his elder sickens and dies, however, leaving a sizable estate to him, John is thrust into a position of responsibility—a position he’s clearly not ready for. The days of idle conversation with friends over tea and French pastries continue as John alternates between trying to decide what to paint and whether to take direct control of his inheritance instead of letting the Bureau of Indian Affairs handle it. The latter decision is complicated by conflicting advice from the lawyer father of the white woman he’s seeing and his own family attorney. But when two close friends his age die separately and suspiciously, John begins to understand that the issues of tribal wealth and mortal danger are related. With the aid of family friends and his own contacts, he pieces together an ugly puzzle of fraud and murder, and in the process makes the connection to his heritage that allows him to find meaning as an artist.
Thematically rich, but with cardboard characters.