A white banker tries to thwart a Native American entrepreneur while handling his midlife crisis in this first novel set in rural Minnesota.
When John "JW" White met upper-crust Carol Ingersoll, he was a teenage horse trainer; after they married, he worked his way up to head the local bank. They had a good marriage until their son died in a car accident. As the novel opens, a year after the family's tragedy, JW is advising a group of bankers on how to secure Native Americans' deposits while denying them loans. After his slick presentation, he stops at an Indian-owned casino but finds that he can’t leave: He’s addicted to gambling. The unraveling that began with his son's death has led JW to a temporary separation from Carol and their daughter, Julie, and now his gambling losses lead him to be evicted from his apartment. Can things get worse? You bet. His ruthless boss, Frank Jorgenson, fears a charismatic young Ojibwe, Johnny Eagle, is building his own bank, threatening the collapse of theirs. Jorgenson’s instruction is terse: Stop him. He's discovered that JW embezzled money from the bank and is suspending him until he delivers. JW isn't used to playing rough, but he’ll do anything to reunite his family, so he rents a trailer across from Eagle’s house on the reservation, which he bugs. Soon he's working for Eagle’s wild rice operation and teaching his troubled teenage son horsemanship. These naturalistic scenes anchor the story. But will the fundamentally decent JW switch his allegiance to the virtuous Eagle? Here Otto is much less sure-footed. Unable to convey the bland JW’s spiritual struggle, which should have been the heart of the matter, he serves up instead a creaky plot involving safe-cracking, two shootings and two cases of arson.
Ethnic animosities make for an awkward fit with standard-issue midlife floundering.