For the first entry back from our break from this project, Drew and I both read House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday. Drew will be updating his blog with that entry soon, so I guess I beat him to the punch. Finishing this book was a task for me, I can’t speak for Drew, but Momaday’s writing style does not mix with me whatsoever. Other than that, and as it is a question of style and not talent, it is merely a preference of mine and for that I will address it as a believable work of art that holds some literary merit.
Momaday follows the story of Abel who we can pick as the quintessential Native-American of this time period. Abel represents to us all that means to be Indian as the characters will continue to refer to themselves. Abel is out-of-control, and all of his subconscious problems seem to seethe under the service of the narrative. We never directly address anything for Abel, everything remains off the page and conjecture. I don’t know where we would learn as simply about what happens to Abel and what leaves him wounded and on Henry’s doorstep again. Again their is conjecture as to why, and possibly what it means for the story could be drawn as to the plight of the Indians going unnoticed by the white man, but more on this later. But I wanted to just address the objects to look at in the text, because there is so much that I feel I missed. I took my time with this 190 page novel. It made you take your time to read the story, and perhaps Momaday was intentional in this regard to slow the reader and live deeply in this narrative. But the story didn’t invite you in, you lived on the outskirts of it, and it didn’t bring you down and let into the inner workings of these characters. We don’t know anything more than when we started about Abel, we saw him move, we saw him run in the final scene, and I think we saw him kill a bear and kill a man. But this is my problem, I don’t know Abel and we didn’t spend a lot of time together. There were so many moving parts to this story that eventually didn’t mean anything. The early section about the festival, and the early priest. The section about the white woman coming back was an interesting twist but ultimately it didn’t match up with anything else. I was constantly confused through out this book as to who was talking and why this person was important. Momaday sets off different voices in italics throughout the novel, but we aren’t sure who was speaking when it was plain text, and are ever more confused when it switches to italics and the person is talking about something totally different. Ok, I got that all out.
I wanted to address some of the reason why I enjoyed reading this book, but I had to flush all of that anx out of my system. It wasn’t an enjoyable read necessarily, I will probably enjoy letting the words of Alice Adams pass over my eyes more than this book. But House Made of Dawn was for me a book as once I put it down, I sat, as I sit now writing, thinking over its nooks and crannies I revel in its mastery of form for function for meaning. If what I perceive is true of this text, the undertones are what feed the tension of the narrative. There is constantly a fight about to break out in these pages, and there is a sense of urgency to the words, I wish it was just a little easier to read for the sake of communicating the conflicts, but I understand perhaps what he was doing. The Native American story is one I am not familiar with, and this novel allowed me into a private conversation happening and has happened all over this country for hundreds of years and has informed an entire way of life. I don’t think that Momaday has filled us in on the whole of the conversation but gave us a piece. The thing that I love about this project is that before I pick up a book I do know research, I do no contextualization for the work. I let the work speak for itself, the words on the page speak for themselves. Then after it is finished and I write a blog based on the words on the page and let them wash over me, I respond with all honesty to what I read. Now this honesty could be made account of if I feel propelled to read further, but the beauty of the novel is that the words can and should speak for themselves, if you need help to decipher something on the page you have an incomplete work of art. So I let it stand up to my critical eye, and this book passed. But now as I want to inform myself of this issue and the art and the conflict and the beauty of the stories. I will seek it out and watch in run on in front of me before I could ever catch up. The story of the Native-American people in America is one that I think is touch with all of the complexities of modern life, and might not at this point be unentanglable for our stories perhaps. But it will propel me on.