WHY I CAN'T READ WALLACE STEGNER by Elizabeth Cook-Lynn

WHY I CAN'T READ WALLACE STEGNER

and Other Essays
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Book reviews dressed up as essays; slipshod polemic dressed up as scholarly discourse. It is not so much that Sioux novelist, poet, and academic Cook-Lynn (From the River's Edge, 1991, etc.) cannot read the work of the late Western historian and novelist Wallace Stegner; it is that she will not (``my reading in the work of Wallace Stegner is minimally undertaken''). She builds this thin collection around a misapprehension of Stegner's thought, namely, that he maintains that American Indian history (and, by implication, American Indian life) ends in 1890, with the closing of the frontier. As a result, Cook-Lynn goes on to assert that Indian history should be written by Indians alone. In some cases she makes good points, as when she dissects Ruth Beebe Hill's allegedly factual account of the Sioux in the spun-from-whole-cloth novel Hanta Yo, but she is hard-pressed to know who the enemy is when Native American writers like N. Scott Momaday opine that Hanta Yo is, after all, a pretty good read. Objecting to Stegner's view of himself as a native Westerner, Cook-Lynn makes the tired argument that only American Indians can claim to be native to the continent. Along the way she dismisses writers like John Updike, ``a white, male member of a prosperous and efficient Euro-American (i.e., white) capitalist democracy,'' and criticizes Michael Dorris, a mixed-blood, for having written negatively of the alcoholic Sioux mother of his adopted, brain-damaged son. Her book abounds with errors--among other things, she attributes the novel Dances with Wolves to Norman Maclean (it was written by Michael Blake). A shoddy piece of work full of self-satisfied platitudes that bespeak an absolutist worldview not open to debate.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-299-15140-9
Page count: 158pp
Publisher: Univ. of Wisconsin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1996