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SUN DANCER by David London


by David London

Pub Date: July 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-81458-7
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

First novel about remnants of the American Indian Movement (AIM) coming together to capture Mount Rushmore. In 1971, members of AIM actually did this, and London blurs real events and timelines rather nicely here, attempting a larger and more contemporary story embracing a portrait of family life on the Lakota Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation; warrior visions attained through sun dancing (piercing one's chest with pegs or spikes that are attached to ropes, breaking free when the vision one encounters is too powerful and painful to endure); liberation theology as represented by a renegade priest; Lakota mythology; and the short, sad history of the Laramie Treaty of 1868, in which Congress recognized the Sioux Nation's claim to the Black Hills as inviolable, and then almost immediately violated the agreement. London's story focuses on two brothers: Joey Moves Camp, a Vietnam vet and college graduate who returns to the reservation because he hears voices (not ancestral voices but the kind that suggest schizophrenia); and Clem Blue Chest, a good-natured family man of small accomplishment, fighting a great dependence on alcohol. While Joey dallies in an affair with a white woman and fights off insanity, Clem, by sun dancing, experiences a true vision, one that he believes could once again make the Sioux a great people. In the novel's finest moments, as the Sioux stand off the FBI, Clem again sun dances on the face of Lincoln at Mount Rushmore. The Sioux know they can't hold the mountain for long but hope to reach the national media; the FBI blocks even this, however, and Clem's insurrection ends as badly as AIM's historical one. London reads like a blend of Thomas McGuane and Jim Harrison- -with touches from the film Dances with Wolves thrown in, too, since his white people are all bad and his Indians are all good. Even so, his storyline flies straight as an arrow.