A brilliant, artistically ambitious retelling of the familiar tale of the Shoshoni tribeswoman who accompanied Lewis and Clark.
Sacajawea’s story has been retold many times, notably in Anna Lee Waldo’s massive (over 1,400 pages) 1979 paperback, Sacajawea (a historical with a romantic subplot), and, more recently, in Brian Hall’s superb I Should Be Extremely Happy in Your Company (p. 1494). Now, prizewinning poet and novelist Glancy, of Cherokee and German-English descent, offers us instead a kind of spiritual take, grindingly gritty yet webbed with supernatural ghostbreath. We all know that Native Americans can scan and hear news from the Otherworld as easily as New Yorkers read the Times. Still, some may at first resist Glancy’s strategies, since she has once again, as in The Mask Maker (2002), adopted a distracting layout that has Sacajawea’s present-tense voice broken constantly by framed inserts from Lewis and Clark’s diaries, which bear upon the moment. Sacajawea herself, according to the grandmother who dreamed of finding a white stone shaped like a beaver, bears this white stone heart in her spirit—and she needs a rocklike heart to rise above the endless privations of the expedition, as when cottonwood trees grow so cold that water within makes them explode like cannonfire (a temperature of 45 below zero, Clark notes). Sacajawea, kidnapped by the Hidatasa tribe, was later sold and married to Canadian trapper Toussaint Charbonneau, who already had Otter Woman as a mate. Pregnant, Sacajawea feared she’d be left behind. Instead, she carried her son on her back through terrifying illnesses and dangers, her soothing songs to him getting her named Bird Woman. She is torn, wants to stay in her starving Shoshoni village when the explorers pass through it, but goes on to Oregon and the Pacific.
A short, masterful work about creative consciousness in the land.