A graceful memoir of an evidently extraordinary but unfortunate woman.
Raised in comfortable surroundings, LaVerne Madigan Bordewich worked as an advocate for American Indian rights long before such work earned one social points. Her son Fergus Bordewich (Killing the White Man’s Indian, 1996) recalls that, although she was the “epitome of Manhattan chic, she nonetheless never seemed more at home than on a busted sofa in some prairie cabin, her arm flung back, and laughing with a Winston dangling jauntily from her lips, surrounded by her Indian friends.” In the years following her death (in a riding accident involving young Fergus’s horse), the author joined his father in a dreadful, self-recriminating cycle of despair and alcoholism. Through it, his mother’s death eventually acquired a weird significance: investing her with numinous powers, he came to have no interest in the future, only in the imaginary country in which his mother lived—one that he even tried to join by attempting suicide. Bordewich examines his mother’s life to find guidance for his own, unearthing some carefully hidden secrets (such as her long-ago rape) that make for painful reading. His thoughtful portrait reveals a woman of powerful intellect, a budding poet and classicist whose scholarly accomplishments excited much comment in her youth; the process of discovering this rich inner world, which his mother had all but abandoned by the time she came of child-rearing age, makes for some of the best passages in his moving account. The result is not merely catharsis for the bereaved author, although it is surely that, too; it’s also an act of reincarnation through which “no longer is LaVerne Madigan a half-stranger excavated from news archives and yellowing photos; she is my mother.”
A memorable work of personal history.