An Ojibwe writer from northern Minnesota's Leech Lake Reservation debuts with a sad but graceful tale of seven people living in a crumbling housing tract called Poverty.
The first 25 or so pages on the desecration of the Mississippi River and the people's land may be some of the most depressing ever written, and it takes a little effort to wade through them. It's worth it, though, as the novel then unfolds with delicate human insight and engaging drama. ``Poverty'' is the Kennedy-era housing tract in the corner of the Minnesota reservation. The tract is in a forested area where, long ago, twins Duke and Ellis built a cabin with their pregnant teenage girlfriend, Jeannette. Now in their 70s, Duke and Ellis live in a Pontiac Catalina parked outside the house where Jeannette lives with daughter Celia and Celia's boyfriend, Stan, a Vietnam vet. Also in the house is the six- fingered and mostly silent Little, Celia's son (the father's identity is one of the central dramas here), as well as Donovan, whom the twins found half-frozen in a car crashed nearby. In Poverty's second house live Stan's sister Violet their father is in prison, their mother fled the reservation long ago and her daughter, Jackie. The unique bonds these people have to each other are revealed as each character tells his or her story: Stan recounts the night in Vietnam when his best friend was killed; Jeannette her tale of being taken to Iowa as a young girl to serve as maid servant to two elderly white women; and Donovan reveals how Little, brimming with excitement, climbed above Poverty and to his death. This clan forms an odd but tightly knit unit that faces numerous deaths, rapes of people and of their land and other hardships, transcending them all. They claim Poverty, and poverty, as theirs, transforming it into a place of beauty that perhaps only they can recognize.
A splendid debut that promises great things to come.