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Back in the Saddle

Back in the Saddle

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Published by David Seals
Arizona Savagery p. 37 --- New York times review of 'SWEET MEDICINE'
Arizona Savagery p. 37 --- New York times review of 'SWEET MEDICINE'

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Published by: David Seals on Aug 21, 2010
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08/21/2010

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Back in the Saddle
By Edward Hower;Published: November 29, 1992
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SWEET MEDICINE By David Seals. 250 pp. New York: Orion Books/CrownPublishers. $20.CAN you think of novels whose main characters would -- or would not -- enjoy theircreator's books?Saul Bellow's Herzog would talk you to death in praise of "Herzog." Portnoy wouldget a charge out of "Portnoy's Complaint" and probably everything of Philip Roth's hecould get his hands on. Mrs. Dalloway would find most of Virginia Woolf's worksengaging. But Sherman McCoy would probably take Tom Wolfe to court over "TheBonfire of the Vanities," and Francis Phelan might come in out of the cold a secondtime to harangue William Kennedy for invading his privacy in "Ironweed."In "Sweet Medicine," by the talented Native American novelist David Seals, the maincharacter and narrator, known as the Storyteller, answers the question for us in theprologue: he can't stand his creator. Or so he says. He says he didn't like Mr. Seals'sfirst novel, "The Powwow Highway," either, and when he and his ragtag band of  warriors invade a suburban shopping mall where the movie version of the book isplaying, they all go to see "The Son of King Kong" instead. "I hope," the Storytellersays, "you'll stop reading this . . . right now so we can put this clown out of businessonce and for all. You're just encouraging him if you keep reading."Is this a trick? Of course it is. How can we stop turning pages after a warning likethat? Fortunately, the Storyteller's tale rewards our refusal to take him at his word.The book is full of adventure, humor, love and sex, and occasionally some eloquentrage about the way Indians have been treated in America.
 
The plot begins where "The Powwow Highway" left off (but you don't need to haveread that novel to understand this sequel). A fat and dumb but brave and lovable guy named Philbert is being sexually initiated by Bonnie, a beautiful young woman with amystical bent. She has just been sprung from jail by a war party of her fellow Cheyennes, who are hiding out at a shack in the New Mexico mountains, whooping itup as they watch their own exploits on the television news.The outlaw band includes Buddy, a hero of the war in Vietnam turned Indian radical,and his girlfriend, Rabbit, a part-time dealer in controlled substances. Various wiseelders and wisecracking children wander in and out of the place. Eventually it isdecided that the only way to escape the enemy is the ancient way -- on horseback.The scheme is so absurd that it works. In a scene worthy of a Saturday morningcartoon (as the Storyteller is the first to admit), the equestrian Indians break througha cordon of police SWAT teams equipped with the latest high-tech antiterrorist gear.But victory goes to their heads. An elder called Grampa decides it's time that the Anglos start paying for trespassing on a sacred mountain that they have turned into afancy ski resort. When he rides his horse onto the highway, stopping cars, the trouble begins.The Storyteller lays no claim to being an unbiased reporter. "These . . . people [ themotorists ] with their golden cocaine spoons around their necks," he says, "whothought nothing of the slaughter of thousands of trees and the maiming of entiremountains so that they could fly in from L.A. and D.C. and have a wonderful vacationfrom their vacuous but well-paying jobs sliding and schussbooming down thoseraped slopes, grew outraged when their superhighway was blocked by eccentricLocals." The police aren't amused either, and give chase. "It was Kit Carsonscreaming after Geronimo all over again," says the Storyteller.The chase continues across the American West for the remainder of the book. Alongthe way the warriors spend a winter in the mountains, learning ancient survivaltechniques and ceremonial wisdom from the elders. It's not always easy for thesemodern Indians to commune with nature. The kids miss television and the adultssometimes long for pizza. But by the end of the season they have all become proud of their self-reliance.
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