This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
By Edward Hower; Published: November 29, 1992
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SWEET MEDICINE By David Seals. 250 pp. New York: Orion Books/Crown Publishers. $20. CAN you think of novels whose main characters would -- or would not -- enjoy their creator's books? Saul Bellow's Herzog would talk you to death in praise of "Herzog." Portnoy would get a charge out of "Portnoy's Complaint" and probably everything of Philip Roth's he could get his hands on. Mrs. Dalloway would find most of Virginia Woolf's works engaging. But Sherman McCoy would probably take Tom Wolfe to court over "The Bonfire of the Vanities," and Francis Phelan might come in out of the cold a second time to harangue William Kennedy for invading his privacy in "Ironweed." In "Sweet Medicine," by the talented Native American novelist David Seals, the main character and narrator, known as the Storyteller, answers the question for us in the prologue: he can't stand his creator. Or so he says. He says he didn't like Mr. Seals's first 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 is playing, they all go to see "The Son of King Kong" instead. "I hope," the Storyteller says, "you'll stop reading this . . . right now so we can put this clown out of business once 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 like that? 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 eloquent rage about the way Indians have been treated in America.
The plot begins where "The Powwow Highway" left off (but you don't need to have read 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 a mystical 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 it up 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 wise elders and wisecracking children wander in and out of the place. Eventually it is decided 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 morning cartoon (as the Storyteller is the first to admit), the equestrian Indians break through a 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 a fancy 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 [ the motorists ] with their golden cocaine spoons around their necks," he says, "who thought nothing of the slaughter of thousands of trees and the maiming of entire mountains so that they could fly in from L.A. and D.C. and have a wonderful vacation from their vacuous but well-paying jobs sliding and schussbooming down those raped slopes, grew outraged when their superhighway was blocked by eccentric Locals." The police aren't amused either, and give chase. "It was Kit Carson screaming after Geronimo all over again," says the Storyteller. The chase continues across the American West for the remainder of the book. Along the way the warriors spend a winter in the mountains, learning ancient survival techniques and ceremonial wisdom from the elders. It's not always easy for these modern Indians to commune with nature. The kids miss television and the adults sometimes long for pizza. But by the end of the season they have all become proud of their self-reliance.
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Edward Hower is the author of the novels "The New Life Hotel