I read this book in college and it really didn’t work for me. I picked it up again for my book club and, while I still think it’s a flawed book, I suppose you could say my reaction was more positive this time around. This is the 2006 Penguin edition of the book with an intro by the author and one by Larry McMurtry as well; the novel was originally published in 1977. It’s the story of Tayo, a Native American who returns to his reservation after World War II deeply broken by the horrible experiences he suffered during his imprisonment by the Japanese. Ultimately, it may be only the old ways, the mystical pagan ceremonies of his people, that can return him to wholeness. Silko is definitely a talented writer, and she’s striving for something quite ambitious here. The story has no chapter breaks and it wanders in almost stream-of-consciousness passages that leap from past to present to past again and from perspective to perspective with very little to keep you oriented. And then quite suddenly, she’ll switch to blank verse and tell an old Indian myth or, even more startling, just continue telling Tayo’s story in this new format. It’s a book that is intended, I think, to feel like a fever dream of sorts and it really does. Unfortunately, I find that it’s a bit too much work for not much payoff. The book kind of keeps us at arm’s length from the characters, in my opinion, with all these literary somersaults. Ultimately, it’s a book that I felt numerous times I could simply put down and never feel the urge to continue. It isn’t a book where you care about the characters, in other words, which is kind of like absolute death to me when it comes to literature. Still, it’s a pretty stunning feat just taken on the merits of its structure and style. I don’t know how you’d even begin to write a book in the way this one is written and, for some people, that may be enough to make it worth reading. For me, it’s a book that I can admire in an abstract way, but never love or even really enjoy. Ultimately, Silko succeeds at creating the book she wanted to create, but it’s not a book I can take to my heart. Above average. Read it; don’t read it; whatever. 2 ½ stars.
tl;dr – tale of traumatized Native American veteran is told elliptically, structured strangely and feels like an odd fever dream; Silko is a technical master but like many a dream, it doesn’t particularly add up to anything and it’s hard to care. 2 ½ stars.
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