cover image The Sharpest Sight

The Sharpest Sight

Louis Owens. University of Oklahoma Press, $19.95 (263pp) ISBN 978-0-8061-2404-9

One rainy night, deputy sheriff Mundo Morales of Amarga, Calif., sees a body floating down the river--the corpse of Attis McCurtain, Morales's childhood friend and Vietnam buddy. But hadn't Attis been confined to a mental institution after brutally murdering the love of his life? The mysteries of this first novel (Choctaw- and Cherokee-descended Owens wrote Other Destinies: Understanding the American Indian Novel ) unfold in a familiar American literary landscape: a dusty, ``tight-strung little town'' riddled with sins, secrets and virulent racism against its Native American and Chicano inhabitants. But Amarga turns out to be more than the sum of its prejudices, betrayals and violent crimes. As in the fictional terrains of Garcia Marquez, the mythic and fantastic animate the town; spirits of the dead and nature watch over the living (sometimes even offering advice), and these forces, rather than the mystery's solution, redeem the townspeople. Unfortunately, Owens's conceit is more interesting than his writing. His prose style is hard-boiled in the extreme, becoming particularly turgid whenever he introduces either female characters or sex. While the author's Native American characters are well drawn, most others who walk the streets of Amarga would be very much at home in a TV movie. This is the first book in Oklahoma's American Indian Literature and Critical Studies Series. (Mar.)