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The Turtle Warriorby Mary Relindes Ellis
Synopses & Reviews
Ernie and Rosemary Morriseau, a childless couple, he part Ojibwa, live on a farm outside Olina, Wisconsin, next to John and Claire Lucas and their two sons. By 1967 the Lucas farm has fallen into disrepair. John Lucas began drinking as soon as he got out of the army in World War Two, and has never stopped. He brutalizes his wife and his two children, James and Bill, drinks up most of the money he makes at his part-time jobs and generally horrifies his neighbors the Morriseaus, who do what they can to offer a safe haven to the two boys. Bill, the younger brother, creates a shield fashioned out of the shell of a giant turtle, which he believes, with his handmade wooden sword, will help him fend off danger. His older brother James enlists in the marines to escape his father but dies in Vietnam. Bill, who remains home to protect his mother, is brutalized and damaged by his father, but protected by the spirit of his dead brother, he manages to survive into manhood and eventually marries and creates a family of his own. When he does, it is one that extends to include not only his mother but also the elderly neighboring Morriseau couple.
The Turtle Warrior is a work of fiction created from the layers of life in a surprisingly isolated region, a landscape of multiple ethnicities forgotten by most of America. In her gorgeous writing of the natural world, Ellis illuminates through fiction her deeply held belief that like animals, children, in an effort to survive, instinctively seek from their physical environment and from others what their own families cannot provide; and that as the traditional Ojibwa have always known, wisdom and clarity can come from a turtle.
"This sensitive, melancholic first novel by Midwestern short story writer Ellis probes the troubled heart of a Wisconsin farm family. John Lucas is a subsistence farmer and an abusive alcoholic feared by his wife and his children, James and Bill. In 1967, 18-year-old Jimmy, who slicks his hair into a pompadour and plays pranks on gentle eight-year-old Bill, enlists in the Marines, intending, in part, to prove something to the brutal father who'd lied about his own military service. But when Jimmy goes missing in action, he abandons to their fate those he had always protected-his mother, Claire, and vulnerable Bill, who must bear the savage brunt of John's self-loathing and failure as a farmer. Claire is an educated woman whose marriage breaks her spirit; though Bill spends time with a kind, childless couple, Ernie and Rosemary Morriseau, he is damaged physically and emotionally. From alternating points of view, Ellis reveals the details of decades of family life (from 1967 to 2000) in the Lucas and Morriseau households-including the meeting, courtship and marriage of each couple after World War II. The upshot is that Jimmy's affecting saga gets lost amid all the history, though Jimmy does return from the dead to tell his war story ("I have feelings too, which is weird"). Bill's tale is also dark; though he believes that the turtle shell shield he makes will protect him, he grows into a man haunted by his past. Though she lays on the pathos a bit too thick, Ellis's debut is affecting and sometimes gorgeously poetic." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Elegantly written and sharply observed... a well crafted debut." Kirkus Reviews
"Told from many perspectives, this epic of the emotions explores themes of war, loss, and family, showing the paralysis of grief and the healing power of nature." Booklist
"In her finely observed first novel, The Turtle Warrior, Mary Relindes Ellis not only tells us who lives ["up north"], but how and why. And her answers, like the region, are simultaneously exhilarating and harrowing." Larry Watson, The Washington Post
"Ellis has produced a passionate, heartfelt book that heralds what I hope will be a long career as a writer." Chicago Tribune
"This powerful novel will affect you deeply and linger long." Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees
The Turtle Warrior is the story of the Lucas family, who live in a beautiful and remote part of Wisconsin inhabited by working-class European immigrants and the Ojibwe. By 1967 the Lucas farm has fallen into disrepair, thanks to the hard drinking of John Lucas, who brutalizes his wife and two sons. When the eldest, James, escapes by enlisting to fight in Vietnam, he leaves young Bill alone to protect his mother with only his own will and the spirit of his brother to guide him. Beautifully written and deeply felt, The Turtle Warrior takes readers from the heartland of America to the battlefields of World War II and Vietnam weaving a haunting tale of an unforgettable world where the physical and spiritual, the past and the present, merge.
Beautifully written and deeply felt, "The Turtle Warrior" takes readers from the heartland of America to the battlefields of World War II and Vietnam, weaving a haunting tale of an unforgettable world where the physical and spiritual, the past and the present, merge.
About the Author
Mary Relindes Ellis was born and raised in Northern Wisconsin and received a B.A. in English from the University of Minnesota in 1986. Her work has been anthologized in Uncommon Waters: Women Write About Fishing (Seal Press), Bless Me Father: Stories of a Catholic Childhood, The Year?s Best Fantasy and Horror, and Gifts of the Wild: A Woman?s Book of Adventure.
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