Sworn Before Cranes

Merrill Gifillan, Author, Merrill Gilfillan, Author Clark City Press $19 (0p) ISBN 978-0-944439-44-9
Poet and essayist Gilfillan-- Magpie Rising: Sketches from the Great Plains won the 1989 PEN/Martha Albrand Award--embraces fiction with this collection of 15 stories about life on the upper Plains. The plots are uncomplicated, the prose clean and descriptive; each tale invokes a quiet heroism, and none fails to affect the reader. Set primarily in South Dakota, they deal mostly with the daily lives of Native Americans, though a few feature whites and others depict the interaction between the two groups. The landscape plays an important role in evoking mood and in propelling the characters toward whatever destiny the story holds. ``The Nomad Flute'' begins: ``the ash trees in the coulee heads were pulsing golden. . . . I could see the processional bottomland trees of the Missouri River not so far ahead,'' setting the tone for a story of a woman who migrates west to seek a second chance in life. Other tales render the confusion of those who exist in two cultures and struggle to maintain their traditions. Whether written in the first or third person, these narratives have the unstudied quality of oral history. The author's easy naturalism, combined with his elevated metaphors, gives a fresh feeling to the stories, which seem to tap a new vein of the American literary heritage. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1993
Release date: 04/01/1993
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