RIVER SONG by Craig Lesley


Email this review


Lesley continues the story of Danny Kachiah (Winterkill, 1984), a former rodeo rider and a Nez Perce Indian. Here, Danny, haunted by his personal and tribal past, returns to Oregon and the old threatened ways of salmon fishing to watch his son come of age and to make peace with his past. In Lesley's first novel, Danny reclaimed his son Jack after Danny's ex-wife Loxie died; now, "although they [Danny and Jack] got along, each guarded his own territory." After a forest fire and migrant work, the two fish for salmon on the Columbia River. Danny's personal quest to finish his grieving becomes intertwined with mystical tribal practice and political conflict. Ex-sister-in-law Pudge, a nurse, wants to marry Danny, but "even when they made love, Danny was thinking of Loxie," who occasionally "visits" him (and Jack) in visions. Danny also has visions of river violence, and seeks out Wauna (a Medicine Woman), the Medicine Tree, and (with Jack) a sweat lodge to understand his "Night Ghosts." Meanwhile, salmon nets get slashed and the fish camp blown up, possibly by sportsfishermen (but "the state cops, the sheriff's department, the federal wardens [and] the Bureau of Indian Affairs" all want the Indians off the fishing sites). "So much has been lost," laments Willis Salwish, a Rivet Indian and yet another wisdom figure in the book. Carefully and naturalistically, the novel raises Danny's consciousness: he comes to understand both the nature and the source of his visions, accepts his drunken father Red Shirt and his family's painful history, integrates mystical tribal practice into his experience, and reaches a rapprochement with his son. After a traditional salmon feast, the book ends with an image of tribal apotheosis. A successful gumbo of personal history, tribal lore, and cultural conflict--all of which cooks down into a moving vision about the process of healing.

Pub Date: June 9th, 1989
ISBN: 395-43083-6
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online: