Native American spirituality trumps Western science in this New Age thriller.
When anthropologist Tara Fairfield gets a cryptic message from her long-lost father, a tabloid reporter who specializes in alien-abduction narratives, she sets off for his last known whereabouts: Coyote Mesa on the Zuni Indian reservation in New Mexico. It’s an odd place, complete with spotty cell-phone reception and local stories of witchcraft and flying saucers. Tara is soon besieged by uncanny experiences: strange images on motel TV sets; mesmerizing lights and episodes of lost time; apparitions of Katchinas, the eight-foot masked bird-men of Zuni myth; and visions of Hollywood heartthrob James Dean telling her that “[t]he world you believe you have mastered is an illusion.” Tara persists in her stubborn trust in logical explanations while she copes with more prosaic concerns, including an ex-husband who may be illegally selling artifacts and sinister government agents who chase her. But as she investigates her father’s disappearance, delves into the history of secret shaman societies and attends a medicine-wheel ceremony, evidence mounts of supernatural phenomena that even her pig-headed rationalism can’t explain. Bennett (Zuni Fetishes, 1993, etc.) mixes and matches motifs from The X Files, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and his own work on Native American religion and New Age spiritualism. He’s a fluent writer: The first part of the novel skillfully builds suspense amid the eerie atmospherics of a haunted desert landscape while regaling readers with interesting Zuni lore. Unfortunately, the narrative suffers from third act problems, as Tara plunges into a shamanic alternative reality awash in turgid—and rather gory—ritual symbolism; the proceedings are so confused that interpretive lectures from shape-shifting spirit guides are required to help make sense of them. Tara’s journey from mystery and dread to prophetic wisdom feels less enlightening than the author intends.
A hit-or-miss blend of occult spookiness and murky mysticism.