Inspired by the lore of her Sioux heritage, this critically-acclaimed novel from Susan Power weaves the stories of the old and the young, of broken families, romantic rivals, men and women in love and at war. Revealing the harsh price of unfulfilled longings and the healing power of mystery and hope, The Grass Dancer takes readers on a journey through past and present-in a tale as resonant and haunting as an ancestor's memory, and as promising as a child's dream.
A major talent debuts with this beguiling novel whose characters are Dakota Sioux and their spirit ancestors. Covering some of the same themes as Louise Erdrich but displaying her own distinctive voice and transcendent imagination, Power has produced an authentic portrait of Native American culture and characters who are as resilient and tangible as the grass moving over the Great Plains. In interconnected stories that begin in 1981 and range back to 1864, the residents of a Sioux reservation endure poverty, epidemic illness, injustice and--no less importantly--jealousy, greed, anger and unrequited love. The tales begin and end with Harley Wind Soldier, a 17-year-old whose soul is a ``black, empty hole'' because his mother has not spoken a word since the accident 17 years earlier in which Harley's father and brother died. Eventually we discover the true circumstances surrounding that event and other secrets--of clandestine love affairs, of childrens' paternity--that stretch back several generations but hold a grip on the present. Meanwhile, Harley falls in love with enchanting Pumpkin, an amazingly adept grass dancer whose fate will make readers gasp. Mercury Thunder and her daughter Anna use magic in a sinister way, and tragedy results. Herod Small War, a Yuwipi (interpreter of dreams), tries to bring his community into harmony with the spiritual world. The existence of ghosts in the real world is accepted with calm belief by the characters, who know the old legends and understand that the direction of their lives is determined by their gods and ancestors. Power weaves historical events--the Apollo Moon landing; the 19th-century Great Plains drought--into her narrative, reinforcing the seamless coexistence of the real and the spirit realm. A consummate storyteller whose graceful prose is plangent with lyrical metaphor and sensuous detail, she deftly uses suspense, humor, irony and the gradual revelation of dramatic disclosures to compose a tapestry of human life. Seduced by her humane vision and its convincing depiction, one absorbs the traditions and lore of the Sioux community with a sense of wonder reflecting that with which the characters view the natural world. This is a book that begs to be read at one sitting, and then again. A chapter appeared in The Best American Short Stories 1993. BOMC and QPB selection. (Aug.)