cover image Mean Spirit

Mean Spirit

Linda Hogan. Atheneum Books, $19.95 (374pp) ISBN 978-0-689-12101-2

Set in Oklahoma during the oil boom of the early 1920s, this brooding and profoundly moving first novel focuses on two doomed Osage Indian families, the Blankets and the Grayclouds. The brutal murder of Grace Blanket, owner of oil-rich land, witnessed in horror by her young daughter Nola and Nola's friend Rena Graycloud, is only the first of a series of violent events designed to coerce the tribes and put their lands into the hands of the oil barons. Justice is slow and ambiguous. When Stace Red Hawk, a policeman with the U.S. Bureau of Investigation, finds his inquiries blocked and his efforts frustrated by evasive and corrupt federal officials, he travels from Washington, D.C., to Oklahoma to investigate firsthand. Soon, like many of the Indian families depicted here, Stace is torn between the glitter of 20th-century life and the pull of sacred traditions. Hogan, a poet, professor and member of the Chickasaw tribe, mines a rich vein of Indian customs and rituals, and approaches her characters with reverence, bringing them to life with quick, spare phrases. Her absorbing novel pays elegiac tribute to the slow and irrevocable breakup of centuries of culture. (Oct.)