Chair of Tears

Gerald Vizenor. Univ. of Nebraska, $16.95 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-0-8032-3840-4
Vizenor's latest (after Shrouds of White Earth) is an ironist's account of the pretense of modern academia as seen through the lens of the Native American Indian trickster tradition. The narrative has the semblance of novelistic unity, but each of the 12 chapters has its own logic, allowing readers to move from start to finish, or—perhaps for the more adventurous—to open at random and delve into whatever delightful episode they find before them. Peopled by a unique welter of characters including Captain Eighty and his wife Quiver ("the native maven of poker scenes"), who live on a ramshackle houseboat with their kids and grandkids, the book focuses primarily on "master of mockery" Captain Shammer, a grandson of Eighty and Quiver who is invited "to become the seventh and final chairman of the troubled and tormented Department of Native American Indian Studies" at a large university. While enlivening—if not necessarily saving—the department with various capers, including advocating on behalf of a pack of "irony dogs" that bark down professors in the midst of lectures, or supporting a deviant press that publishes blank books, Vizenor and Captain Shammer create a rollicking environment, though it occasionally suffers from too much detail. Still, the book's richness (think Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude) and the author's insider perspective (Vizenor is a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley) make this an intriguing, fun, and intelligent read. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/19/2012
Release date: 03/01/2012
Genre: Fiction
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