fulfilling book riot’s 2020 read harder challenge task #24: Read a book in any genre by a Native, First Nations, or Indigenous author
but more importantly, WELCOME TO SPOOKTOOOOBER!!
this book opens big and strong and violent, but then it sort of shifts, taking a moment to readjust its focus, and in that time i started to have doubts about whether it was going to return to the early promise of those opening pages, but then WHOOOOOO BOY.
if this happens to you—this slackening of reader engagement because you’re confused about or not really into where the story’s going, don’t worry—it’s a temporary dip and once it settles into its groove, it’s rich and dark and relentless, kinda like It Follows but with elk.
the story will shift, and shift again, because of REASONS that are for me to know and for you to find out, but it was only that first shift that dislodged me; once i was invested, i stayed invested and every subsequent turn or diversion was earned and appreciated.
i’d heard so many good things about this book, but i was still unprepared for how much i would love it. it is astonishing; the atmosphere, the imagery, how real the characters feel. it’s a horror novel, but it’s so much more than its horror. it’s splattery, but it’s also smart.
there’s a very thomas hardy-esque sensibility driving the narrative arc; the longtailed memory of promises made and not kept, the necessity of paying for long-ago sins—in this case a youthful indiscretion committed by four friends growing up on a blackfeet reservation; an act which violated both tribal law and custom, resulting in the kind of waste that nature abhors and will ultimately demand parity.
the repercussions of that event are a long time coming, but when they do, revenge is inevitable and merciless; the brutality of nature given supernatural determination. the experience of being haunted by one’s past is both literal and figurative here, manifesting in the physical and psychological dimensions; characters are haunted by guilt while being stalked by a past that remembers.
the bulk of the story follows lewis, who has long since moved away from the reservation and married a white woman. lewis feels the burden of his past strongly; troubled by guilt and regret as well as the existential dilemma of what it means to be blackfeet in the wider world; the clash between tradition and modernity, the expectations put on him by his own and other people.
it’s a tricky straddling of two worlds, and fate will rush into that space, filling the chasm between doubt and belief, fact and superstition. lewis catches eerie glimpses bridging the past and the present; prickly suspicions giving rise to a simmering paranoia before escalating sharply into deliciously horrific episodes.
but, hey, it’s also funny.
the humor is often self-deprecating or ironic, playing on stereotypes and cliches, but there are also plenty of sly reference points and genre subversions, and when gabe muses, “One little, two little, three little Natives . . . doesn’t really sound right, does it?”, you know he’s invoking agatha christie’s second, slightly less offensive, title of the book now known as And Then There Were None, with cheeky intent. and when he superimposes a ceiling fan with an animal in a living room, you can almost hear grace zabriskie screaming.
it’s brilliant work about identity and heritage and loss, setting up several mirrored oppositions and power dynamic reversals across nature and history, predator and prey, white man and indian, and all of the collective memory passages are sublime.
i tried to avoid learning too much about the specific plot points of this book before reading it, and i think that was a good move, so i’ll say no more. but, damn. DAMN.
i went into this half-blind but full-hearted—i fell hard for that cover at first sight, and i was anticipating its release for what seemed like ages. when it got covid-delayed, i was INCONSOLABLE, but then ended up sitting on it for a couple more months anyway, knowing it would be the perfect book to ring in spooktober. it did not disappoint.
review to come!