FOOLS CROW by James Welch
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Like Larry McMurtry with Lonesome Dove, Welch has gone back into history to suggest the foundations of his previous fiction (The Death of Jim Loney, Winter in the Blood) and its world of the modern deracinated American Indian. He focuses here on a tribe of Blackfeet Indians in Montana after the Civil War--the Lone Eaters--and how misunderstanding, venality, internal dissension, and, ultimately, physical plague wipe them out utterly. The central character is a young, at first hardly-brave brave named White Man's Dog--who, after taking part in a daring horse-robbery raid against a rival tribe, is given the honor of a new, stronger name: Fools Crow. And with the name come the rights and responsibilities of an important member of the tribe. He marries into a family whose patriarch, Yellow Kidney, has survived a terrible ordeal at the instigating hands of a few rogue Napikwans--whites; and it is to revenge this that some of the Lone Eaters (not Fools Crow) turn rogue themselves. This unsanctioned violence quickly, of course, becomes a complete war between the whites and the Lone Eaters--certainly an unwilling one on the part of the Indians. Yet it isn't bloodshed that seems the ultimate act of fate in Welch's reading of this baleful scenario but disease: the ""white-scab"" plague that finally decimates the tribe. The powerlessness against the plague but also the successes and poetries of Indian spirit medicine play as a subtext here--allowing Welch to write not only a depressing destiny-chronicle but also to embody how natural and fluid the Indian was with the supernatural, the visionary, the shaman-power; scene after scene finds the Lone Eaters in more command of the world than would be expected (though, of course, also less). Rich and dense--very sad yet without stock villainy or orthodox pleading: a satisfying historical novel by a writer who, if anything, now goes beyond the portraits of desolation he's been so good at before, into the larger picture.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1986
ISBN: 0140089373
Publisher: Viking