INDIAN AFFAIRS by Larry Woiwode


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This sequel to Woiwode's first novel (What I'm Going To Do, I Think, 1969) about a honeymooning couple in northern Michigan shows Chris and Ellen back there seven years later, dealing with marital problems and with menacing strangers. Their biggest problem by far is their childless marriage (Ellen's miscarriage was reported at the end of the earlier novel). Her secret reason for being in this cabin on her grandparents' land in the dead of winter is to write a journal about that lost child, and so assuage her guilt. Chris, too, is here to write; his dissertation on the poet Roethke's journey toward the animism of Indian culture will, he hopes, make his own purposes clearer. For Chris is part Indian; though he ""wanted to pass,"" and has succeeded, he now feels his Indian heritage asserting itself. Meanwhile, there are less psychic matters demanding attention. A broken pump needs fixing; a prowler is lurking in the woods; and some Indian kids, young punks, keep pestering Chris to buy beer for them. Add to that list prejudiced bartenders in town; a teenage arsonist roaming the countryside; an aggrieved Indian who mistakenly thinks Chris shot at his wife at the town dump...well, it all makes for a busy life. What it doesn't make for is an engaging novel, for mostly Woiwode is just crying wolf (that prowler, for example, is not unmasked until the final pages), and all these nuisances throw the novel out of whack, distracting us from the serious business of Chris and Ellen trying to break free from their pasts (a cruel father in Chris's case, a sinister grandmother in Ellen's). The result? An unworkable combination of the identity-crisis novel and the city-slickers-surrounded-by-hostile-rubes genre, delivered in prose that is all thistles and thorns. A sad fumble by this major American writer.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1992
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Atheneum