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588 WesternAmerican Literature the first-person narration of David Hayden, now a high-school history teacher, as he recalls events forty years earlier when he was a reticent, socially awkward boy oftwelve in a small town in windswept northeastern Montana, where, “ifthe land had its way, nothing would grow taller than sagebrush and buffalo grass.” The family housekeeper, a Hunkpapa Sioux named Marie Little Soldier, falls ill and then dies under suspicious circumstances. But not before we discover that David’s Uncle Frank—the town doctor and a handsome, deco­ rated war hero, “witty, charming, [and] at smiling ease with his life”—has been sexually molesting Indian women. David’s father, Wes, like his father before him, is the sheriff, though he doesn’t fit the image of a Montanan lawman. He wears brogans and afedora, not boots and a Stetson, and he keeps the respect of the boys in town during the war by fingerprinting them in his office. His gun is a tiny Italian-made .32 automatic that “looked more like a toy than the westernstyle cap guns that had been my toys,”David remembers. Wes arrests his brother Frank, but in an awkward attempt to keep matters quiet he locks him in the basement of their house instead of the townjail. The rest of Watson’s story explores the consequences of that arrest: the moral dilemma of a family torn betweenjustice and loyalty, racism, and family pride. Watson revises a romanticized western past of sunburned individualism. Yet he does so not with postmodern levity or loud indictments ofpast sins, but through the sad, loving evocation ofa boy’sloss ofinnocence: a blend ofmoral complex­ ity and childhood memory best exemplified by the image of David listening, in his empty upstairs bedroom, to family voices through the ductwork. Montana 1948 is the winner of the 1993 Milkweed National Fiction Prize and richly deserves the acclaim it has received. MICHAEL KOWALEWSKI Carleton College Child oftheHoly Ghost. By Robert Laxalt. (Reno: The University ofNevada Press, 1992. 153 pages, $19.95.) Nevada writer Robert Laxalt began a Basque family trilogywith a boy, Pete, growing up in the thirties in Carson City. Change, evident in both boy and town, characterized that work, The Basque Hotel. Child ofthe Holy Ghost, the second in the series, takes an adult Pete back to the old country of his parents’ origins. The changelessness of Donibane, a country village largely bypassed by time, awaits him. The Basque Hotelis set specifically in the 1930s, but a vagueness about time characterizes Pete’s pilgrimage to the old country. Laxalt pins the story down only through larger world events in the background, as though the ancestral land reposes in a backwater or eddy outside time’s stream, beyond change. Of the older world he discovers there, the narrator comments: ‘The Basque Reviews 389 country is suspicious ofchange, believing that it means disrupting an order that has been tested and proven.” Fate had swept the parents, Petya and Maitia, out of that timeless setting and to America and new lives. Petya, a young shepherd, had witnessed a murder; fraud denied Maitia, already stigmatized by illegitimacy (she is a “child of the holy ghost” in village idiom), of her rightful inheritance. These events precipitated degrees of change in course that each might never have realized otherwise. With Pete, the reader discovers some of the myriad human incidents that cause people to leave an ancestral land, and the reasons some stay attached to it and others do not. As it had with the parents, chance intervenes to cause the son, who has returned to the Basque homeland solely to study its folkways, to delve into their stories, specifically that of Maitia. Pete had discovered from his distraught mother before he left Nevada the fact of illegitimacy. Then, he had scoffed at her concern and shame with “Middle Ages nonsense” in the context of twenti­ eth-century Carson City, another world, another time. Later, when a social situation on the visit makes apparent that the ancestral village of Donibane had long ago closed in around her story, he determines to find out why. “I did not dream then what havoc the fact ofillegitimacy could wreak...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 388-389
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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