Gracie Lefthand is in mourning. Her beautiful, elegant sister, Bernadette, has been murdered, and Gracie and her father are left to raise Bernadette’s child—and tell her story—in this polyphonic Native American novel.
Told in the first person by both Gracie, a 16-year-old Apache/Pueblo girl, and Starr Stubbs, a bored white model-turned–rock star’s wife who hired Bernadette, a traditional dancer and well-educated young woman, as a housekeeper, and occasionally in a poetic third-person narrative voice, Bernadette’s story takes place in the New Mexico town of Dulce. The novel moves back and forth in time, never losing the thread that moves us closer and closer to Bernadette’s brutal murder. The novel is filled with poetic detail, and both Starr and especially Gracie punch forward with their strong, unique voices. They tell not only Bernadette’s tragic story, but her husband’s, who is Diné/Navajo—and that of the man so jealous of their relationship that he'd pursue dark witchcraft to destroy it. This book was originally published in 1993, and although Querry’s work precedes the current trend in Native letters that has writers speaking to their own, or neighboring, Native nations (Querry is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and his characters are from various Southwestern Nations), Querry has lived for years in the Southwest. His characters are complex and achingly human. He depicts traditional Diné ceremonies, and though this is also a departure, what he does depict is respectful and adds much to the richness of the story. It is often taboo for Diné to write or speak of certain traditions, and it’s awkward when someone white does. But for Querry, he is both outsider and insider.
This powerful, sad, but ultimately beautiful story deserves to be back on the bookshelves of American readers with its innovative, organic use of Indigenous prose form and strong, lovely personalities.