THAT DAY IN GORDON by Raymond H. Abott


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A spare, intense first novel about one Indian's bleak life on a South Dakota reservation. Elijah Black Horse is 35, alcoholic, a painter whose work is being sought by a gallery in Rapid City. As the novel opens, he is coming home after being jailed for drunkeness off the reservation; a car sideswipes him and he's knocked into a snowbank, only to have his life saved when a stray coyote stands guard over his body until the snowplow arrives. It's his last piece of good luck, as it turns out, and his life spirals downward into tragedy with a relentless inevitability. He misses bringing his paintings to the show in Rapid City because he's in jail for drunkeness again; and when a friendly rancher named Roger Desmet offers him a job at his place in Gordon, just across the Nebraska line, Black Horse takes it in the hopes of drying out. But his common-law wife Doris comes with him--she's a terrible nag and a drunk herself, accusing him of betraying his Indian heritage by working slavishly for Desmet. They have a horrible fight and Desmet kicks them off the ranch; Black Horse is drinking at a rundown bar in Gordon when his friend, Jim Bennion, a Mormon missionary, tries to take him home. The local sheriff arrives at the same time; there's a scuffle and Black Horse kills him with a penknife. He escapes to be tracked by a sadistic Nebraska state policeman who finally murders him in a sordid motel room--and gets away with it. Abbott stands well back and tells this story dispassionately, making it seem as fatalistic as The Stranger, and as bleak. A strong debut, and deeply moving.

Pub Date: Aug. 20th, 1986
Publisher: Vanguard