THE WEST POLE by Diane Glancy


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 Slight, self-satisfied essays on issues of Native American culture and identity. Glancy is an accomplished novelist (Pushing the Bear, 1996, etc.) and essayist (she won an American Book Award for Claiming Breath). But she is less successful here as memoirist and critic. This grab bag of essays, many written in loose verse, deals at length with her struggle to define herself as an Indian. ``I had no clear image of myself as a Native person,'' she writes. ``I was a part-Cherokee living on land that had belonged to another tribe.'' But her account of this process of self-discovery, of trying to reconstruct the lives and thoughts of her forebears, is diffuse and in the end not especially interesting; the subject of ``mixed blood'' identity is treated much better in Patricia Hilden's 1995 memoir, When Nickels Were Indians (not reviewed), and without Glancy's grating, New Agestyle platitudes (``I guess you can hear anything again. You can still scrape hides. If only through the imagination in your own head'' ). She thrives on circular arguments and questionable logic to assert her claims for Native identity, as when she defines a Native American as ``pretty much like any human being who had a high culture built on codes of honor and a behavior and way of life that were in harmony with their existence''--in short, pretty much like we all believe ourselves to be. She is still less convincing when discussing issues of literary theory. She equates, for no discernibly compelling reason, the adventurous spirit of Christopher Columbus with that of Thelma and Louise of movie fame, and she maintains as inarguable that Native American literature can only be viewed in Native American terms (which she never defines), an idea the literary scholar Arnold Krupat handily dispensed with in a recent study. ``What Native American literature and culture offer you is yourself,'' Glancy volunteers. There are countless better avenues to that discovery than the one Glancy follows.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-8166-2894-7
Page count: 216pp
Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1997


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