Synopses & Reviews
A gifted young writer takes a singular journey back to his native Midwestern American Plains.
Growing up in South Dakota, Josh Garrett-Davis always knew he would leave. But as a young adult, he kept going back-in dreams and reality and by way of books. With this beautifully written narrative about a seemingly empty but actually rich and complex place, he has reclaimed his childhood, his unusual family — and the Great Plains.
Among the subjects and people who bring his Plains to life are the destruction and resurgence of the American bison; his great-great-grandparents' twenty-year sojourn in Nebraska as homesteaders; Native American Ghost Dancers, who attempted to ward off destruction by supernatural means before the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee; the political allegory to be found in The Wizard of Oz; and current attempts by ecologists to rewild the Plains. Ghost Dances is a fluid combination of memoir and history and reportage that reminds us that our roots matter — and might even be inspiring and fascinating.
"Alienation and authenticity commingle in this memoiristic meditation on America's lonesome midsection. Growing up the son of self-consciously lefty parents in conservative South Dakota, Garrett-Davis 'didn't live where belonged'; adding to his sense of estrangement were his mom's lesbianism, his bouts of bedwetting, and a lifelong infatuation with punk rock. He entwines these confessional travails with colorful historical vignettes and profiles: the slaughter of the buffalo (and one bison's glorious redemption in a Mexican bullfight); the 19th-century Indian ghost-dance movement and the Wounded Knee massacre; prairie populist William Jennings Bryan, prairie homophobe Fred Phelps, and prairie litterateur Willa Cather; a distant cousin's journey from a Plains girlhood to a career as a Methodist missionary and peace activist. While some narrative themes feel forced (he likens the custody battle his divorced parents fought over him to the legal battle fought between fossil-hunters and Native American landowners over a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton), Garrett-Davis writes evocatively of 'the latent fury in this monotonous landscape' and finds some juicy tufts of lore to graze on in his meanders. Photos. Agent, Matt McGowan." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
With Ghost Dances, Josh Garrett-Davis bursts on the literary scene like a fresh, punk-voiced Wallace Stegner, weaving the story of his own coming of age into the tangled history of the Great Plains. A familiar prairie past of sod houses and populists lives here alongside a modern landscape of broken families and alienated teenagers, Christian fundamentalists and Indian activists. Histories of failure and destruction weigh down the present and mute the possibilities for the future. But the Great Plains emerge here as a place of terrible beauty, explosive possibilities, and that most American of emotions - hope.--Martha A. Sandweiss, author of Passing Strange
Ghost Dances is beautifully open-spirited. Its ambition never steps on its sense of humor. Garrett-Davis reads his own life as an extension of a landscape that both nurtured and tried to stunt it. What I liked best was how he let the edges mingle: you weren't always sure if the book was about him or about the Plains, and neither was he. Here is a writer whose mind can intrigue us, and a first book that makes it fun to imagine what he might do.--John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead
"A meditation on home and homelessness, Ghost Dances combines memoir, history, and vision into an evocative chronicle in the ocean of grass where Josh Garrett-Davis came of age amid loss, love, and the rituals of hope. A unique and moving book."--Brenda Wineapple, author of White Heat
About the Author
Josh Garrett-Davis has an MFA from Columbia and is currently a PhD student in American history at Princeton.