THE POWER OF HORSES by Elizabeth Cook-Lynn


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This first collection of short fiction by a Native American raised on a South Dakota reservation displays all the faults and none of the strengths of much ethnic literature--it's predictable, preachy, and full of cant phrases. Characters of whatever ethnicity seem mere caricature in Cook-Lynn's flat prose. A prologue alerts us to the theme of these 15 pieces--the importance and power of the past and its myths for the Dakotapi of the Upper Plains. Unfortunately, Cook-Lynn spends more time throughout telling us this than suggesting it in her narratives. Many of these anecdotal stories, in fact, seem more like lectures on the customs of the Sioux: ""Mahpiyato"" distinguishes the various English words for describing a blue sky from the single tribal term, with its presence of the Creator. In the title story, a young girl's father, out of respect for the mythic power of his horses, decides to set them free rather than sell them to an insensitive white man. Meanwhile, Cook-Lynn, justifiably but with a fictional heavy-handedness, demonstrates little sympathy for the various Christian missionaries who proselytize her people. ""A Visit from Reverend Tileston"" reveals the buffoonish ways of evangelicals in the Thirties; ""The Clearest Day"" proves that even a black missionary can't appreciate the transcendental ways of tribal dancing. Many of the other stories rehearse a litany of woe: Families are tom by alcoholism; returning soldiers from various wars are brutalized by fighting the white man's battles; a family is destroyed by their ""Squaw Man"" (i.e., their white father); and some are just victimized by disease. In ""A Good Chance,"" a young radical poet, back on the reservation after a year in jail, is shot dead for no apparent reason before he can consider a scholarship to the University of California. Not quite agitprop, Cook-Lynn's fictional martyrology is of anthropological interest, but its general artlessness makes it a weak addition to the literature of outrage.

Pub Date: July 18th, 1990
Publisher: Arcade--dist. by Little, Brown