ROOFWALKER by Susan Power


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Twelve pieces, a combination of fiction and nonfiction, describe life among Native Americans who have left the reservations and entered mainstream society.

Power (the novel Grass Dancer, 1994), a Sioux who grew up in Chicago and studied at Harvard, writes pretty closely of her own experience, to such an extent that her pieces seem as much a set of variations on a theme as a collection of separate tales. The narrators are mostly young women of Sioux/Dakota origin living in urban centers far removed (both spiritually and geographically) from the reservations and tribal homelands of their ancestors. The title story, for example, describes the unhappy domestic life of a Sioux family in Chicago: Told by a girl, it portrays the quiet trauma when an Indian-rights organizer leaves his wife and family and returns to the reservation—ostensibly to do political work, but in reality to seek a new life with his girlfriend. Some stories examine the tensions of mixed marriages. “Watermelon Seeds” is an account of a Mexican-American girl from Chicago who becomes pregnant by a Chippewa from Wisconsin, while “The Attic” sorts through the family histories of a half-Sioux, half–Irish-American girl who finds some resonance in the history of persecution among her ancestors on both sides of her family. “Angry Fish” is an excursion into magic-realism, introducing us to Mitchell Black Deer, a Sioux in Chicago who becomes friendly with a talking statue of St. Jude. Other pieces concern the relation between past and present: The narrator of “First Fruits” (a Harvard freshman, a Sioux) becomes so intrigued by the story of the first Indian to graduate from the college (in 1655) that she begins to see him on campus, while the young narrator of “Museum Indians” visits the Natural History Museum in Chicago to see the Indian dress donated by her Dakota grandmother.

An interesting perspective on an unfamiliar world. Tales that are well crafted but ultimately rather repetitive.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 1-57131-039-8
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Milkweed
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2002