THERE'S SOMETHING IN THE BACKYARD by Richard Snodgrass
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THERE'S SOMETHING IN THE BACKYARD

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Despite the awful title: a deeply affecting first novel about a kachina, or Hopi spirit presence, in Arizona. Snodgrass gives too much exposition, but the narrative unsentimentally develops the lives of two couples whose fates are most directly touched by the kachina and its Hopi mythology. George and wife Mary Olive at first seem like suburban stereotypes of the academic variety; they discover the masked presence in their Flagstaff yard. ""Mary Olive, we don't even know if he's an Indian much less if he's drank."" They look up ""kachia"" (ancestral spirits), and the author fills in background--the couple is from back East, and George has a lover, Sara, in New York. Next, friend Don, writing ""Retold Tales of the Hopi,"" provides historical background (""In the Hopi language. . .the past tense is the same as the present tense, so that everything that ever was, still is, still is now""). The novel's pace quickens as Snodgrass works out the implications of a spirit-presence in moribund lives. The point of view, which includes passages from Don's book and brief Hopi dream-visions, alternates between George (""Why did I ever marry her? I knew better""), Don (dying of cancer), and their wives: Mary Olive gave up a literary editor's life back East, and Sally is an ""Indian groupie."" George sees the kachina dancers, comes across several wisdom figures (one of whom is as intimate with Gnostic gospel as with Hopi myth), and communicates telepathically with Aholi (the kachina) but lacks any real insight into his hypocrisy (Mary and Sara) until he has it out with Don, who is burning his own manuscript in the hills. Snodgrass manages at once to make these lives achingly real--and to inform them with exhaustively rendered Hopi myths. Inventive use of Indian mythology, even though too much background can slow the pace. Still, a striking debut.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Viking