cover image Ghost Dances: 
Proving Up on the Great Plains

Ghost Dances: Proving Up on the Great Plains

Josh Garrett-Davis. Little, Brown, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-19984-1

Alienation and authenticity commingle in this memoiristic meditation on America’s lonesome midsection. Growing up the son of self-consciously lefty parents in conservative South Dakota, Garrett-Davis “didn’t live where [he] belonged”; adding to his sense of estrangement were his mom’s lesbianism, his bouts of bedwetting, and a lifelong infatuation with punk rock. He entwines these confessional travails with colorful historical vignettes and profiles: the slaughter of the buffalo (and one bison’s glorious redemption in a Mexican bullfight); the 19th-century Indian ghost-dance movement and the Wounded Knee massacre; prairie populist William Jennings Bryan, prairie homophobe Fred Phelps, and prairie litterateur Willa Cather; a distant cousin’s journey from a Plains girlhood to a career as a Methodist missionary and peace activist. While some narrative themes feel forced (he likens the custody battle his divorced parents fought over him to the legal battle fought between fossil-hunters and Native American landowners over a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton), Garrett-Davis writes evocatively of “the latent fury in this monotonous [Plains] landscape” and finds some juicy tufts of lore to graze on in his meanders. Photos. Agent, Matt McGowan. (Aug. 21)