cover image Savage Conversations

Savage Conversations

LeAnne Howe. Coffee House, $15.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-56689-531-6

Written in the form of a poetically infused play, Howe’s illuminating and challenging work draws its dramatic energy from the hanging of 38 members of the Dakota tribe in Mankato, Minn., on Dec. 26, 1862—the largest mass execution in American history—under the order of Abraham Lincoln. The narrative is set primarily in the Bellevue Place Sanitarium in Batavia, Ill., in 1875 and features three characters: Mary Todd Lincoln, whom her son Robert had institutionalized there earlier that year; Savage Indian, a personification of the executed Dakotas and their tribe; and The Rope, an image of the U.S.’s tools of execution. Basing their interactions on Mary’s reported delusions of an Indian spirit who mauls her nightly, Howe (Choctalking on Other Realities) choreographs an intimate pas de deux between Mary, who excoriates her husband and family for their neglect, and the Savage Indian, a symbol of national guilt and injustice. Although revisionist in scope, Howe’s drama taps emotional undercurrents that course imperceptibly through conventional historical narratives. “We are a pair, you and I,/Relics to be studied,” says Mary to her Native American counterpart. Readers will be intrigued by the light this work shines on incidents behind the scenes of history. [em](Feb.) [/em]