“Audiobook performed by Gary Farmer.
On a summer Sunday, Geraldine Coutts, a tribal clerk living on a reservation in North Dakota, is brutally attacked. Her husband, Bazil, and her 13-year-old son, Joe, accompany her to the hospital, but details of the crime are unknown because Geraldine refuses to discuss what happened. As his mother retreats into sadness and despair, and his father tries without success to get justice, Joe feels that he alone will be able to heal his mother and return his family to normal. Backed by his trusty friends – Cappy, Zack and Angus – Joe takes it upon himself to find evidence and bring the perpetrator to justice.
It is obvious from the dust jacket that this novel will deal with issues of justice. Rape is a horrific crime wherever it occurs. Many victims have difficulty getting justice, but Erdrich shines a bright light on the arcane laws and regulations that govern tribal lands and make getting a conviction in a case such as the one depicted in this novel all but impossible. The facts and figures she includes in the Afterward are eye-opening and disturbing. But the story touches upon much more than this central issue.
Characters in the novel have to come to grips with personal responsibility, PTSD, loyalty, alcoholism and domestic abuse. But Erdrich does not simply wallow in the negative. She shows us a loving family unit with an extended network of friends and relatives who support and cherish one another. She explores a rich cultural heritage as well. The oral story-telling traditions serve to impart valuable lessons from one generation to the next. Mooshum’s long story of the “woman who cannot be killed” and the buffalo reminded me of the kinds of stories my grandparents would tell about our long-gone ancestors. Stories which left us wide-eyed with amazement at a young age, laughing and/or bored in our teens, and nodding in agreement at the lessons imparted later in life: “Oh, that’s what he was getting at!”
Some reviews have expressed frustration with the slow-moving plot. But I think that is deliberate on Erdrich’s part. It mimics the frustration of the victims of the crime with the slow progress towards justice. It also rings true for a child narrator who would have limited access to direct information and be relying on his interpretation of what he manages to overhear – including gossip, innuendo and incomplete facts being related second- or third-hand. And I rather enjoyed some of the more light-hearted scenes – including the boys’ obsession with Star Trek the Next Generation, and the lusty banter of Grandma Ignatia. Such scenes serve to relieve the tension.
As I’ve found in other works by her, Erdrich writes in a style that is lyrical and flowing. Her descriptions bring the landscape to life for me. I was a little put-off by the conspiracy of silence that envelopes the ending. I would love to freely discuss this with someone else who has read the book.
Gary Farmer does a very good job narrating the audio version of the book. However, he has a “gravelly” voice and there were times when I had trouble figuring out which person was speaking because he did not give them sufficiently unique voices.
Loved this book.