A frighteningly perceptive look at the essential dilemmas of mixbloods, academics, and writers from an insider on all counts. Novelist Penn (English/Michigan State Univ.; The Absence of Angels, 1994) is always cynical, occasionally bitter, and unfailingly accurate in his arrows' marks--even if his targets seem difficult to miss. These include family, mostly his wealthy maternal WASP relatives, who can hardly bring themselves to acknowledge his existence; colleagues, such as the one who said that ""being black was serious but being Indian was 'more like a hobby'""; institutions that deny tenure for ""lack of publications,"" no matter how much he publishes; and assistant literary agents who write cruel letters on behalf of bosses who can't make his writing ""salable."" Nor is he afraid to turn that razor-sharp perception on himself. After a lengthy disquisition on authenticity and fakery in Native American writing, for example, he explodes all his carefully drawn theories with a simple, unanswerable question he hears in his grandfather's voice: ""What makes you so all-fired sure?"" That is his Nez Perce grandfather, from whom he learned everything about being Indian while his father was grinning stupidly for his white employers and colleagues; his facial muscles simply gave out three years before he was to receive his retirement benefits. And it is in descriptions like that--of his family--that Penn is truly ingenious. He masterfully melds the history and traditions of the Nez Perce with that of his family, not only when they coincide in obvious ways--as in the story of Penn's ancestor Chief Joseph--but also in explaining his father's inability to stay at his job until retirement, his sister's dreamy obliviousness to pain, his own digressive writing style, and the perennial cynicism that has allowed him to survive in a hostile world. Insightful and elegantly written.