EARTH SONG, SKY SPIRIT by Clifford E. Trafzer


Short Stories of the Contemporary Native American Experience
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 Trafzer (Native American Studies/Univ. of California/Riverside) compiles an unusually interesting mix: 30 stories (and novel excerpts)--most never before published and many by unknowns--that range from amateurish to extremely literary, historical to futuristic. As for big names: M. Scott Momaday is represented by a previously uncollected story; Louise Erdrich, Michael Dorris, Leslie Marmon Silko, James Welch by novel excerpts (Welch's, unfortunately, so poorly chosen as to seem a book condensation parody); while Gerald Vizenor, Joseph Bruchac, and Paula Gunn Allen look to tradition and myth. At the same time, new work includes a top-notch story from Sherman Alexie (in a world where ``making fry bread and helping people die are the last two things Indians are good at,'' a cancer patient drives his wife away by making jokes about his terminal condition); Duane Niatum is poetic and intense about an adulterous Indian-Jewish affair; Diane Glancy is at her difficult poetic best; LeAnne Howe goes vividly back to an 18th- century Choctaw burial ceremony; Gordon Henry writes of a man robbed of his mother tongue for whom arson becomes protest and performance art and who eventually finds a language in haiku. Some less successful stories are interesting in putting Indian protagonists in situations familiar to non-Indian counterparts (a young woman doesn't want to resemble her mother; a 50-year-old yearns for adventure, then recognizes the value of her marriage; a woman remembers child sexual abuse). Stylistic and structural traits emerge: ironic linguistic playfulness with the ``enemy's'' (English) language; storytelling that resists exclusive focus on the individual, preferring multiple shifts and viewpoints to emphasize the community. An uneven collection, but valuable nonetheless for its range of Native American sensibilities--some deeply rooted in tradition, some very much in the American mainstream.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-385-46959-4
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1993