Tuesday, November 21

The Hiawatha

I've been reading fiction and criticism by David Treuer, a writer and English professor who is part Ojibwe and who was a very small boy in the Crestwood neighborhood of Washington, DC, in the early '70s when my children were small and we were neighbors. David was fair and his older brother Tony dark, mirroring their parents, Bob and Peggy. So many years later, when we've all fled for parts unknown, it's great fun to find this small boy now a very fine writer, and creating novels of the present day life of certain U. S. citizens in the late 20th century, with a strong sense of place, and of character, and a healthy literary style.

I read David Treuer's second novel, The Hiawatha, first, by chance. It took less than the prescribed 50 pages to pull me into the reality of the novel and into caring very much what happened to Simon and his kin. Involvement with the characters, carried along by the subtlety of the plot and the veracity of the style, bore me breathlessly through to the end. Now I'm reading Little, his first novel, and finding it no less compelling.

At the same time I want to continue in his Native American Fiction: a User's Manual to see what he has to say about my other enchanter, Erdrich, and the others he considers.

As I pointed out earlier, it's a matter of style and literature, not what you write about. But -- if the style and the artistry are good enough, then it's the particulars of individual human lives and their settings that hold your imagination and resonate in your head after the book is closed. Whether we're momentarily in Dublin or Minneapolis, in Albany or Troy, in Hannibal or in Colombo, we're captured and held in the net of fiction.

I wanted to like David Treuer's novels, because I knew him when he was a little boy, and I was afraid of being disappointed; but now I have to think of him as a Writer, not that young neighbor. He's a master, working on a large but also constricted canvas of human life in a certain part of this huge continent.

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