In Brown’s first novel, an impressionable young woman drifts into animal rights terrorism, goes on the lam and reinvents herself with the help of noble Native Americans and true love.
After her Lebanese-born mother dies in childbirth, Margie grows up under the gentle but distant care of her usually drunk father. A waiflike beauty, she is so sensitive that her left ovary aches when she is stressed. As a lonely college freshman, she falls in love with her Latin professor, Simon, a middle-aged widower with a motherless 7-year-old daughter. Simon introduces her both to sexual passion and to the animal rights movement through his organization H.E.A.R.T., which pulls off small illegal acts like freeing birds from their pet-store cages to protest for animal rights. Then Simon dumps Margie and quits H.E.A.R.T., suggesting to the group’s typically quirky and diverse members that they put Margie in charge. For a girl who is always sighing about her shyness, Margie has no trouble dancing naked at a party or leading H.E.A.R.T. to burn down a restaurant that proudly serves exotic meat. No one is hurt, but afterward, an undercover policeman nabs Margie, not for arson, but for incendiary speech, when she gives an educational lecture on how to commit arson to prospective H.E.A.R.T. members. Before her trial date, H.E.A.R.T. member Bumble helps her flee to Montana, where she hides out with an Indian family whose matriarch, Granma, was friends with Bumble’s mother back during the AIM uprisings in the 1960s. Now, Granma lives off the land with her granddaughter Cora, whose mother is in jail for drugs, and with Cora’s dad, Jim, who works at a printing company. Soon enough, Granma and Jim have given Margie a new appreciation of nature and an understanding of the spiritual relationship that can exist between humans and the animals they hunt for food. Then Simon shows up and forces Margie to decide where she really belongs.
Self-important pretensions don’t deepen the shallow emotional waters in which these predictable characters swim. Brown is no Louise Erdrich.