THE ANCIENT CHILD by N. Scott Momaday


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This visionary saga, Momaday's first novel since his Pulitzer in 1969 for House Made of Dawn, is at once an evocation of western landscapes, a love story, and a meditation on myth--structured around a Kiowa Indian tale about a boy transformed into a bear. The plot sets in motion a meeting between a 19-year-old visionary girl and an artist in his 40s. Grey, the girl upon whom visions happened ""irresistibly and all the time,"" is a former crackerjack rodeo-rider and the self-proclaimed mayor of Bore, Oklahoma, who fantasizes vividly about Billy the Kid. When Kope'Mah, her medicine-woman mentor, whispers ""the bear is coming"" and ""Set"" before dying, Grey contacts Locke Setman (Set), who ""had found the truest expression of his spirit in painting."" Famous (though disillusioned), be attends the medicine-woman's funeral but returns to his art-milieu. Even so, he begins to remember his past (especially Bent Sandridge, his wise adoptive father, who is still living) and to move from his present (Lola Bourne, beautiful, sensitive, ambitious). Meanwhile, Grey speaks with her dead grandmother and writes a Billy the Kid scrapbook: ""Her fantasies sustained her; she required them absolutely."" When Bent dies, Set goes into himself on an inner journey that leads him, terribly weak, back to his ancestral home and Grey. The two of them live together in a hogan, where Set recovers from his weakness and loves her: ""His life was in motion; in motion was his life."" The contemporary narrative is interspersed with Billy the Kid fantasies and scrapbook sequences, bits of mythology, and several vivid characters, notably Set-Angya, an old Kiowa who carries the bones of his favorite son with him. Like Ondaatje's In the Belly of a Lion, which also combines dream-reality with naturalism, this one marks off its sacred ground with a voice that is original and tree to itself.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1989
Publisher: Doubleday