Kirkus Reviews QR Code
IN THE BEAR'S HOUSE by N. Scott Momaday

IN THE BEAR'S HOUSE

By N. Scott Momaday

Pub Date: March 22nd, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-19969-4
Publisher: St. Martin's

The Pulitzer-winning novelist (House Made of Dawn, 1969) offers this mixed media collage—forty paintings, a dialogue, twenty or so poems, and two poetic prose sections—all on the subject of the bear (or “Bear—), an animal of cosmic and spiritual significance among Momaday’s Kiowa Indians. Momaday’s blend of biblical and Native American spirituality and language seems almost old-fashioned in light of the more separatist studies that have dominated since he first arrived on the scene back in the “60s. In fact, his traditional verse forms and expressive clarity will remind us of his tutelage under Yvor Winters, and Janet Lewis (to whom this volume is dedicated). The longish, eight-part dialogue between Yahweh (or “Great Mystery—) and Urset (the primal Bear) covers issues of essence and nature, dreaming and storytelling, time and evolution. Momaday reshapes Christian and Kiowa myth into a witty and plain-spoken cosmic exchange, and provides a perfect gloss to the seemingly simple poems that follow. Momaday’s clean and sharp measures enhance a number of well-made poems that date mostly from recent times, but include a stunning portrait of a bear first written in 1963. “The Blind Astrologers” captures the dual essence of Bear as mythic and mundane; “To An Aged Bear” encourages a bear to prepare for his spirit journey after death; “The Print of the Paw” understands the bear’s mark as a “wondrous thing,” the imprint suggesting a grand whole; and a few rhymed couplets and quatrains perfectly describe the bears” grandeur in life and art. The bold brushstrokes of Momaday’s paintings echo the power and precision of his poetry and prose.