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The Sacred White Turkey (Flyover Fiction)by Frances Washburn
Synopses & Reviews
The best stories create traditions, and this novel by celebrated Native American writer Gerald Vizenor is a marvelous conjunction of trickster stories and literary ingenuity. Chair of Tears is funny, fierce, ironic, and deadly serious, a sendup of sacred poses, cultural pretensions, and familiar places from reservations to universities. The novel begins with generous stories about Captain Eighty, his young wife, the poker-playing genius named Quiver, and their children and grandchildren who live on a rustic houseboat.
Captain Shammer, an extraordinary grandson reared on the houseboat and with no formal education, is appointed the chairman of a troubled Department of Native American Indian Studies at a prominent university. Shammer is a natural enterpriser and ironic showman in the tradition of trickster stories. He arrives at the first faculty meeting dressed in the uniform of Gen. George Armstrong Custer. Native students celebrate his conversion of the department into an academic poker parlor and casino, and a panic radio station. The most sensational enterprise is the training of service mongrels to detect the absence of irony.
An irresistible novel of original ideas, Chair of Tears gets to the heart of questions about identity politics, multiculturalism, pedantry, and timely virtues.
"A lively, heartfelt novel by Washburn, a professor of Indian studies at the University of Arizona, pursues a near-supernatural encounter between a rare white turkey and a Lakota medicine woman and her granddaughter. Hazel Latour and 12-year-old Stella live on a small farm, on a reservation run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Their daily lives are disrupted when, one Easter Sunday, a glorious white turkey makes her home in their chicken coop. Stella sees this as a good omen, believing the turkey to be holy, but Hazel insists it's just a dumb bird and is unafraid of arousing the ire of the head of the tribal leasing office, George Wanbli, a medicine man who she sees as a rival. Clients flock to Hazel, the bird bringing prosperity, but word gets out about the turkey, provoking Wanbli's jealousy. He attempts to crucify the bird and slaughter her chicks, but they miraculously return to life. Washburn doesn't belabor the Christian metaphor, instead alternating between the points of view of Stella and Hazel to weave a charming, plainspoken tale of two people who have only each other until a bird gives them the courage to battle the forces of corruption and evil. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
Its been a year since the body of seventeen-year-old Kelsey Little was found in the river outside Dark Vespers, Nebraska. Although the town may have reached an uneasy equilibrium, those who loved her most have certainly not: Javier Martinez, her troubled ex-boyfriend and the father of the child no one knew she was carrying; Sam and Hank, her parents, whose marriage is coming apart under the pressure of grief and not-knowing; and Ike Parrish, a reclusive eccentric whose clairvoyant “river spells” compel him to come forward with information about Kelseys disappearance and death.
A prismatic look at the impact of loss on individual lives, Water and Abandon tells the moving and paradoxical story of those brought together by the very thing that tears them apart. Haunted by Kelseys death, each struggles with his or her own demons of blame and guilt, despair and fury—until one, in a confusion of pain, grief, and unrequited love, decides to do something dire. As deeply felt as it is finely crafted, the novel confirms Robert Vivians place among the most interesting fiction writers of our day.
There is nothing particularly noteworthy about an Easter turkey. But when the turkey is stark white and appears on Easter Sunday on the doorstep of a Lakota medicine woman and her teenage granddaughter, it is clearly out of the ordinary. Taking turns, Stella and her grandmother, Hazel Latour, tell the story of what follows as the mysterious turkey stirs up discord on the reservation, where some greet it as wakan, holy and sacred because of its coloring and timing, and others dismiss it as inexplicable but unimportant, while a less reputable local healer views it as a clear challenge to his standing.
A tour de force of storytelling, The Sacred White Turkey is at once remarkably entertaining, rich with suspense and humor, and deeply philosophical, exploring questions of spirituality and power, abuse and trickery, all within a framework that embraces both Native and Catholic traditions. As the Latours find themselves the target of escalating violence, embroiled in a BIA leasing scandal, and witnesses to a turkey crucifixion, readers will find themselves thoroughly engaged in the unfolding mystery and meaning of the sacred white turkey.
About the Author
Frances Washburn is an assistant professor of American Indian studies and English at the University of Arizona. She is the author of Elsies Business, available in a Bison Books edition.
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