Sunday, October 12, 2014

On the Rez (2000)

The "Rez" in Ian Frazier's second book about his travels on the Great Plains of North America is the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, which famously is among the most impoverished regions of the country. Le War Lance, Frazier's Native American friend he met on the streets of New York City (as detailed in Great Plains), takes an even more central role in this rambling and always interesting collection of facts and anecdotes. Frazier makes it sound as if Le is always pressing him for money. But Frazier gets something in return, as he reveals in one telling moment near the end. Le and his friend Floyd John have once again beaten Frazier out of rides and cash as they attempt to repair an ailing car. Frazier writes: "On his back under the car, Floyd John wrenched and tapped. At the side of the house, Gunner, the dog, growled away at a section of deer ribs Le had thrown her. Two kittens, one yellow and one black, chased each other around. A warm wind blew. For a moment, we might have been sitting in front of a tipi in an Oglala camp along the North Platte River 150 years ago, braiding lariats and making arrows and gazing off across the Plains." It's not that Frazier entertains and can express such a fantasy, but that he does so even in the face of all the disturbing news he has to tell about the Rez. Maybe it's the only way he can bear the reality, which is here. It's bad, and he knows it, and there's more than 100 pages of notes sourcing it all. It is heartening and yet enormously sad, enormously sad and yet heartening, to read these stories of the Oglala Sioux and the life at Pine Ridge. It's mostly bad news but not all. He finds a hero he can believe in in a teen girls' basketball player named SuAnne Big Crow. And the pathos of his plain love for the Oglala, which does verge on obsessive, is always most apparent. For me, I like how it works as a kind of sequel to Great Plains, so focused on a palpable sense of place, if here focused even more, almost exclusively, on the modern-day reservation. He continually makes it come alive in totally unexpected ways.

In case it's not at the library.

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