A masterful tale that combines the wit of Sherman Alexie with the old-fashioned storytelling of Olive Ann Burns.
When Tecumseh and older cousin Lum witness a woman throwing a suitcase from a cliff into the Shield River, and then following it with herself, the small mysteries begin. The body is found, the suitcase not. Then Soldier, Tecumseh’s dog and best friend, finds a child’s skull with a hole and a red ribbon. Son of a practical mother and a dreaming, sometimes drinking, mostly scheming father, Tecumseh lives in the contemporary flux made up of the two towns of Truth and Brightwater, one in Montana and one in Canada—and one an Indian reservation—separated by the glacial Shield River. He also lives in his own flux between childhood and adulthood, and in another between his separated parents. Dad augments his living as a carpenter, with schemes no odder than the government’s—smuggling hazardous bio-waste across the border, for example—and Mom’s a beautician. During the long days of summer, Tecumseh wanders back and forth between them, Soldier nearly always at his side. Lum is his second best friend, a top-flight runner in training for the contest that will cap the annual end-of-summer Indian Days Festival. Tecumseh’s aunt, Cassie, makes one of her many returns, but this time, mysteriously, she doesn’t leave (together, she and Mom carry a multitude of secrets). Also returning is Monroe Swimmer, Famous Indian Artist, the reservation’s most notable son and once a close friend of Tecumseh’s father. Tecumseh takes a “job” with Monroe, who has bought the old Methodist church and is painting it—a magical trompe l’oeil—into oblivion.
As mysteries unfold, so does a loving portrait of small-town life, both on and off the reservation, but not in the way we’re accustomed to seeing in contemporary Native American fiction: King (Green Grass, Running Water, 1993), more interested in being human first and Indian second, accomplishes his aims without “characters” of mystic eccentricity, violent guilt, racism and self-loathing, and alcoholism being upfront and center.