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GRAND AVENUE by Greg Sarris


by Greg Sarris

Pub Date: Sept. 2nd, 1994
ISBN: 0-7868-6017-0
Publisher: Hyperion

A touching, often poignant, debut collection of fiction by a Native American writer. Sarris (English/UCLA; Keeping Slug Woman Alive, not reviewed) offers 10 linked short stories describing the milieu of the Pomo Indians (from whom he is descended) in the small coastal California town of Santa Rosa (Sarris himself is chairman of the Coastal Miwok tribe). Though the people described no longer live on the reservation, they still live together, congregated in a collection of old WW IIera barracks in an Indian ghetto around the street of the title. All of the nine narrators (two stories are told by the same teller) are related, part of the family of Juana Maria. Some are young; others are old and near death. All experience poverty and dislocation. The majority are strong-voiced women. A girl tells the story of how her unbalanced cousin Ruby struggled valiantly but hopelessly to save a crippled pony from the slaughterhouse. A mother watches her daughter wither away under the onslaught of leukemia. A daughter reminisces about her mother, who worked as a maid for a well-to-do white family and longed for acceptance by her own family. The importance of family and acceptance lie at the heart of many of the stories. A father writes secret letters to the son he never knew he had. An old woman clings to a newfound relationship with the granddaughter of a family member she thinks she let down, and as she does, the innocence of youth chips away at the jadedness of age. The story cycle as a whole follows a subtle trajectory: It begins with hatred, rejection, and despair and ends with hope and belonging. Often, however, there is one step backward for every two steps forward. Sarris sets himself a difficult task and accomplishes it well. Without being mawkish or sentimental, he creates a variety of voices—male and female—who tell the struggles of a people and their determination to survive. (Film rights to HBO; author tour)