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106 Western American Literature Place and Vision: TheFunction ofLandscape in Native American Fiction. By Robert M. Nelson. (New York: Peter Lang, 1993. 189 pages, $36.95.) Robert M. Nelson’s Place and Visionis a major contribution to the growing body of criticism on the relationship between landscape and literature. Nelson’s intention is to demonstrate how identity in Ceremony, House Made of Dawn, and TheDeath ofJim Loney, is defined and evaluated through the physical landscape rather than through “ethnocentric criteria.” “Place . . . matters”in these three important Native American novels, shaping the writers’ artistic visions. How do this theme and these texts differ from those in the literary mainstream? Nelson says that by the 1960s, postmodern American fiction had become a “literature of illness,” depicting protagonists who suffer from the disease of alienation and estrangement, and, given the principles of existential thought, the only cure for this sickness was the illusory world of creating fictions. Each of the three works Nelson analyzes opens with its protagonist physi­ cally and spiritually alienated. However, unlike the protagonists in mainstream fictions who either propagate or succumb to the disease, those in Ceremony, House Made ofDawn, and The Death offim Loney, as in many Native American novels of the postwar era, “acquire the blessing of a cure.”Their cure depends upon their ability “to enter (or reenter) into identity with the landscape.” Literary criticism, Nelson reminds us, tends to resist “the notion that the land has a life of its own,”stressing, instead, that vitality is imposed on the land by one’s imagination. But Native American fictions emphasize that “stories grow out of the land,just the way other forms of life do.”In existential terms, the “existence” of the land precedes the “essences” (personal and cultural identities). The main characters in these three fictions experience revelation and harmony of being not by conquering or even owning the land but by finding ways of living with it. Mr. Nelson modestly states that the scope of his study is to draw attention back to landscapes not only as “settings” for fictions but also as principal “characters”in them. He has done this and much more; especially good is his astute, close analysis of each text. Furthermore, in the larger academic debate over “cultural literacy,”he has deftly shown that a key element in that debate is an intimate knowledge of the land—landscape vitalizes cultural tradition. Landscapes are alive in these texts, he accurately concludes, and place has the power to shape identity and create vision. LEONARD ENGEL Quinnipiac College ...


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