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B o o k r e v ie w s 2 1 3 they knew it because they are taught to fear this complex animal. Other names hold different meanings; it is no accident that the elder holy woman, spiritual matriarch of the community, is named Mrs. John Edwards, whose long-departed husband bore an uncanny resemblance to the Puritan mystic. Humans also mir­ ror mythic figures of Apache and Choctaw fable throughout the novel, and the interweaving of Apache and Choctaw myths makes worthwhile a trip to the bookshelf for Apache creation stories and Choctaw eschatological lore. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that this Apache community knows far more about Jake than he knows about himself. In brief, mixed-blood Vietnam veteran Jacob Nashoba is the local game warden, who frequently hikes alone into the Dark River Canyon. Jake is estranged from his wife due to his inability to adjust to her extended family and due to his untreated post-traumatic stress. Early in the novel, Nashoba ignores orders by the tribal CEO to cease travel into the canyon and goes looking for his granddaughter, who has talked a local entrepreneur who sells vision quests to rich tourists into leaving her in the canyon for her own vision quest. While searching for his granddaughter, Jake encounters a paramilitary band who have paid offthe tribal CEO to conduct their war games in the canyon. Members of this group recognize the adversarial Jake as their presumed-dead comrade from Vietnam war days. And just as it begins to look like the classic western machowar -hero-rescues-innocent-maiden-against-great-odds novel, Owens decon­ structs every carefully established preconceived notion he has lulled the reader into adopting about Indians, about literature, and about narrators of stories. Nothing is as it would seem. Absolutely nothing. Two thumbs up for Dark River, Owens’s most sophisticated novel yet. Contemporary American Indian Literatures and the Oral Tradition. By Susan Berry Brill de Ramirez. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1999. 259 pages, $40.00/$ 19.95. Reviewed by William M. Clements Arkansas State University Approaching contemporary Native American writing through conven­ tional critical approaches has yielded some useful insights into this important and vital body of literature. But, as Susan Berry Brill de Ramirez’s study shows, those approaches are limiting; there’s much more that the reader can do with this literature by using less objectifying, hegemonic, or—to use Brill de Ramirez’s favorite adjective for these approaches—“discursive” ways of reading fiction and poetry that are clearly grounded as much, if not more, in local oral traditions as in the great tradition of western writing. While there may be sev­ eral ways of getting into this literature without the baggage of western-based criticism, Brill de Ramirez opts for “conversivity,” a concept drawn largely from the ideas of the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, about whom she has pub­ 2 1 4 WAL 3 5 .1 S u m m e r 2 0 0 0 lished an earlier book. Brill de Ramirez uses “conversivity” in two complementary ways: to describe the power ofstorytelling to transform and revitalize (cf. conversion) and to stress the relationship between storyteller and his or her listening audience (cf. con­ versation). Contemporary Native American written literatures, extending the processes of oral tradition, embody such “conversive structures” as “privileging of relationality over individuality, domains inwhich meaningfulness is defined relationally rather than semiotically, voice shifts that reflect the presence and neces­ sity of participatory listener-readers, and repetition for learning rather than for memorization” (6). The literary scholar who approaches works bycontemporary American Indian writers conversively will eschew a priori critical models that tend to mute the actual voices present in those works and enter the storytelling process themselves by serving as guides for other readers and by demonstrating the transformative potential of storytelling. After introducing conversivity, particularly as it derives from Wittgen­ stein, Brill de Ramirez applies her approach to the art of several Native American writers—for instance, N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko, and James Welch, whose works have already received considerable attention from scholars and critics—and others who have not figured prominently in scholarly...


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pp. 213-214
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