LoneWalker (On the Other Side of the Golden Gate, 2013, etc.) explores the horrors of Native American mission schools in a fictionalized blend of history and mythology.
The novel begins with the death in 1924 of Francis Pratt, who once served as a sadistic superintendent at a boarding school for Native American children. The remainder of the novel alternates between Pratt’s point of view as he revisits his sins in the afterlife, and that of the student he victimized the most—a Shoshone boy named Weshaw, nicknamed “Smiley.” In Pratt’s chapters, the Spirit Bear sends him on a quest to find his better nature, which he does by experiencing all the punishments that he inflicted on his students in life. Weshaw’s chapters, based on the author’s research into real-life mission schools, are a first-person account of Pratt’s horrible reign from a student’s perspective. The two narratives begin in very different times and places but draw closer together as the book goes on. The way this novel tells its story of abuse through the eyes of abuser and victim is one of its strongest points; it makes the horrors twice as powerful while also offering the possibility of redemption. The scenes in the afterlife blend Christian, Native American, and other beliefs in an intriguing, if sometimes confusing, manner. This book’s main purpose, though, is to document an atrocity, and it does so by describing Pratt’s crimes in vivid, disgusting detail, including the rape and ongoing sexual abuse of a young boy. The prose is unsophisticated, brutally straightforward, and plagued by typos, which only seems to highlight the ugliness it depicts. This lack of subtlety doesn’t make this book a very enjoyable read. That said, it may be educational for readers whose history classes failed to mention the “American Holocaust.”
A fantastical, horrifying, and
thought-provoking journey through one of America’s darkest chapters.