Tensions between Dakota people and White settlers cascade into violent confrontation in this debut historical drama set during the Civil War.
Oenikika is only 16 years old but self-assuredly knows that she wants to become a healer—a respected role in her Dakota society. However, she frets that her father, Chief Little Crow, is ready to sacrifice everything they have in exchange for gold from the White man and a life confined to a reservation—a mortifying, diminished existence for a proudly nomadic people. To make matters worse, the White people almost immediately break their promises, leaving the Native Americans in a dangerously precarious predicament, and ready to go to war. As Oenikika bluntly puts it, “The white traders had lied and lied again….The Great White Father failed in his promises. A chief could not respect such a foe, a coward who hides behind a piece of paper.” Specks also chronicles the situation from the perspective of White settler Emma Heard, also 16, who feels stifled by her small-town existence and yearns to become a schoolteacher. Emma’s and Oenikika’s lives fatefully intertwine as the story descends into cataclysmic violence—a grim outcome that the author details with great emotional power and restraint. The two women also both have a connection to Stephen Riggs, a missionary whom Emma sees as a romantic possibility and Oenikika, as an unwanted interloper. The narrative’s split into dueling points of view makes for a simultaneously panoramic and sensitive portrayal of a terrible situation, and Specks forgoes facile judgments and formulaic conclusions in favor of complexity. The author’s story is inspired by true historical events and, in some instances, draws directly from archived documents. The end result is a startling, nuanced amalgam of past events and impressive, delicate literary creation.
A dramatically engrossing and thoughtful novel.