The Snake Game

Wayne Johnson, Author Knopf Publishing Group $18.95 (257p) ISBN 978-0-394-58335-8
In his first novel, Johnson evokes a community of disenfranchised Indians, the Ojibway and Chippewa, as its members slowly leave their cultural enclave over 30 years from the '50s to the '80s. Chronicling the defeatism, desperation and the violence of the neglected poor, using unabashedly spare language--a style that stringently avoids any excesses of emotion--Johnson creates an odd tension. Racism, murder, genocide and sexual passions are related as straightforwardly as sections detailing fishing, welding, the molding of love charms and baseball games. Each chapter is in fact like a powerful short story that could stand on its own. In ``Coots,'' an Indian boy receives a gun for his birthday and, venting his long pent-up rage, starts shooting uneatable birds as the white man does, just for the fun of killing. In ``Bear, Dancing,'' a young man, Bear, is asked to play Santa Claus before members of his tribe. Suddenly, his ho-ho-ho's metamorphose into a tribal chant and dance--to the priest's consternation. In ``Arrival,'' a white girl attempts to seduce her father's Indian employee, whom she previously found repugnant, while not far off the same Indian's brother lies dead, his head blown apart in a ``hunting accident'' by a known bigot. A provocative, potent debut. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 10/01/1990
Release date: 10/01/1990
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