Watermelon Nights: A Noverl

Greg Sarris, Author Hyperion Books $24.45 (416p) ISBN 978-0-7868-6110-1
Author and academic Sarris returns to the polyglot milieu of his short-story collection, Grand Avenue, in this witty, highly textured first novel. In fact, the short stories of the prior book form a kind of prequel to the current work. Filipinos, Chicanos, Native Americans and Anglos mingle again in the neighborhood of Santa Rosa, Calif., a place of bootleg liquor, dancehalls and cockfights, where 20-year-old Johnny Severe and his family, Waterplace Pomo Indians, struggle to keep solvent by working for canneries, department stores or dairy farms. Johnny's used-clothing business is not doing well, and he longs to get away to the city. Exacerbating his restlessness is the change in the community's social climate: the Pomos are seeking federal recognition as a tribe, and everyone is trying to be more Indian than his or her neighbor. The irony is, of course, that all of them are mixed bloods, descended from the same Indian woman, Rosa, and the Mexican general who raped her. The genealogical research necessary for federal recognition and the story of Rosa serve as springboards to Sarris's aim of conveying the history of the tribe, allowing shifts in narration from Johnny to his grandmother, Elba, and his mother, Iris. Sarris handles multiple perspectives well, in a manner akin to Louise Erdrich. He is as adept at writing from a female perspective as was Michael Dorris. This is a rich, satisfying tale of plain folks trying to survive in an unfriendly social milieu, and of the ties that bind them, sometimes too closely, together. Author tour. (Sept.) FYI: Sarris is chairman of the Federated Coast Miwok Tribe.
Reviewed on: 08/31/1998
Release date: 09/01/1998
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 425 pages - 978-0-14-028276-4
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