From reservation to boarding school

October 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

My first new-library-card book checkout has turned out to be a success. (No wanting to throw the book across the room because the writing style is so dreadful or the characters so stereotyped. Hooray!) Linda LeGarde Grover’s short story collection, The Dance Boots keeps me coming back, to be inside the world she creates, to try and know its inhabitants. Grover writes prose with a strong poetic quality, her lines rhythmic and her images rich. The voice changes subtly, but enough, as different characters narrate their stories. And her characters are vulnerable, strong, complex. You want to know them. A few times I did get a little confused as to where we were in time and who happened to be narrating, as the scenes frequently jump, but that’s my only complaint – and may not be an issue for readers with less of a tendency to daydream! If you’re looking for a primarily plot-driven book, this isn’t the one. If you’re looking for a book that explores the human experience – particularly, the influence of Indian schools and white culture on the Ojibwe of Northern Minnesota – this is one you’ll want to be sure to get your hands on.

Here’s an excerpt:

And mother was beautiful – the sum of all she was, was beauty. In her white low-waisted dress with the embroidery down the left side of the skirt. In the dress she wore to powwows, black cotton with red tape trim, cones rolled from snuff can covers sewn on the hem, the pleasant jingle they made as she walked and as she danced next to her dear friend Lisette, off to the side of the powwow circle, swiveling slowly, nine steps left, nine steps right. Lisette, she was called, and Mother was called Shonnud. Lisette was a maple tree, strong and stately, Shonnud an aspen that trembled to the music that moved the still air.

. . . Their dancing was hard work, controlled, disciplined, and prayerful; their calves were trim and very firm from this dancing, their feet muscular. And I watched them and waited for the day that I would be a young lady in a black dress and beaded jacket, waited and watched them dance as they had since they were young ladies, Shonnud and Lisette dancing side by side, dipping gracefully in a rhythm deeper in the hearts and souls of women than the drumbeat. (Grover 93-94)

The book won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, which is placed in such small print on the cover I didn’t even notice until a moment ago. This is encouraging – see, I do have good taste! More seriously, I am just encouraged by happening upon writing that insists upon being art, not just entertainment. Writing that reads naturally, that masks the effort put into the work. Like a ballet.

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