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Chris LaLonde. Grave Concerns, Trickster Turns: The Novels of Louis Owens. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 2002. xiii + 220 pp.
In light of the literary world's unfortunate loss of Louis Owens one year ago, an analysis of his literary works couldn't be more timely. In Grave Concerns, Trickster Turns, Chris LaLonde draws upon a wide variety of critical sources (including Lyotard, Derrida, Freud, and, most significantly, Gerald Vizenor) in an extremely useful and thorough reading of Louis Owens's novels. While this conjunction of such varied schools of thought might sound daunting, LaLonde seamlessly and clearly integrates them into the text of his argument, making it an accessible and worthwhile read for scholar and nonscholar alike.
Bringing together the major literary works of Owens's career, Wolfsong, Sharpest Sight, Bone Game,and Nightland,LaLonde shows how Owens's novels work intertextually with each other and with novels by other contemporary native writers such as Leslie Marmon Silko, James Welch, and N. Scott Momaday. LaLonde argues that Owens's novels seek to offer alternatives to limited and limiting identifications of "the Indian" by Euro-America, and LaLonde demonstrates that it is through connection to story and community that resistance to such artificial identifications can be articulated. Highlighting Owens's stress upon community as a critical aspect of native identity formation, LaLonde shows how Owens's characters avoid the pitfalls of isolation that snare Welch's Jim Loney, how Cole McCurtain looks into the night sky and feels isolated because he cannot see the stars as relatives in the same way the Chumash do in The Way to Rainy Mountain,and how Silko's Emo is not only still [End Page 858] causing mischief, but must once again be allowed to do so in order to prevent the stereotypical end sought by Euro-America. These connections between texts are not mere mimicry; they are a continuation of story and the refusal of the limitations constructed by dominant discourse, and they "accentuate connections, stories, and how they are mutually invigorating and actualizing."
The key figure of this resistance is, of course, Trickster. Never fixed to any singular definition, Trickster is a creature of ambiguity, movement, and change. LaLonde illustrates how Trickster works in each of these novels to serve as a link to community, story, and place, thus providing the essential connections to a native identity which is not defined by the dominant culture. The trickster figures in Owens's novels shake things up and are the key to resisting and rewriting the tropes thrust upon Native Americans by the dominant culture. Whether it be Tom Joseph of Wolfsong whose "trickster activism" results in the destruction of the copper mine and an unfortunate death, or Alex Yazzie in Bone Game whose humor and play help to keep Cole McCurtain focused on the tasks he must perform, Trickster is the one who prevents stagnation. But, as LaLonde points out, Trickster does not merely grace the pages of Owens's texts. In writing these novels, Owens himself is enacting trickster discourse: "Trickster-like, Owens lives in a world of words in order to give us stories so that we might live in the world." Owens, then, as Trickster, serves to articulate a site where the reader, as well as his characters, might construct a sense of self outside Euro-American ideology. Owens "writes against the law of authority and the dominant culture in order that his readers might discover the truth about aspects of Native American life, contemporary America, and Native-white relations." Having learned from Owens's own trickster discourse, LaLonde's juxtaposition of multiple theoretical perspectives allows him to move freely within Owens's layered and intricate novels and avoid the limitations of a singular line of thinking.
As the first full-length study of Owens's literary work, Grave Concerns, Trickster Turns is sure to be the starting point for future criticism of Owens's work. Because of its thorough and intertextual analysis, it also serves as a...