INDIAN GIVER by Gerald Duff


Email this review


A talented, naive young Indian athlete goes from the reservation to the U. of Illinois--in a first novel that follows the usual, YA-ish pattern (bewilderment, isolation, conformity, disillusionment, rebellion), but with somewhat more irony and satire than customary in the genre. Sam Houston Leaping Deer, star of the Indian/white high-school basketball team in Big Muddy, Texas, is lured to the faraway Urbana campus with lies: a recruiter gives Sam the idea that the university's team is all-Indian. So, arriving after a grueling bus trip, tradition-haunted Sam is confused, disoriented, often not understanding the patronizing comments, the slang and worldly allusions around him. His roommate is the team's only other ""Third-Worlder,"" a jive-talking black militant. His English-lit teacher is youngish Sally Smith, an intense touchy-feely type who has the class over to her apartment for wine and group-therapy, culminating in a drunken sex-bout between teacher and student. (Sam has already lost his virginity with another aggressive, casually sexual white woman.) There's an unwelcome visit from the fake-native leader of RAMS (""Red American Movement Students""), who urges an unresponsive Sam to join the university's few Indian students in lodge-living and a pot-filled peace-pipe. And things get off to a rough start at the gym--when Sam, for whom basketball is something pure and mystical, refuses to join in drills that seem meaningless to him. Soon, however, Sam gives in on the drill issue, becoming the outstanding freshman player. Furthermore, the coaches start planning to use Sam's Indian-ness as a gimmick for getting national publicity during the university's centennial. But finally, after assorted disillusionments (the lesbian doings of an idealized sweetheart, the expulsion from the team of Sam's only real friend), the pure-hearted youth rebels during the big centennial game, re-enacts a traditional Coushatta-nation ritual, and hitches his way back home to the reservation. . . where, ironically, traditions are fast eroding. A largely predictable scenario, with some of the satire dated or overdone; but there's wry, low-key amusement throughout, and first-novelist Duff avoids much of the soulfulness and sentimentality common to stories of Indian identity crisis.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1983
Publisher: Indiana Univ. Press