First Impression Friday will be a meme where you talk about a book that you JUST STARTED! Maybe you’re only a chapter or two in, maybe a little farther. Based on this sampling of your current read, give a few impressions and predict what you’ll think by the end.
Based on the extraordinary life of Louise Erdrich’s grandfather Patrick Gourneau, who worked as a night watchman and carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota all the way to Washington, D.C., this powerful novel explores themes of love and death with lightness and gravity, and unfolds with the elegant prose, sly humor, and depth of feeling of a literary master.
Thomas Wazhanshk is the night watchman at the jewel-bearing plant, the first factory located near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a Chippewa council member who is trying to understand the consequences of a new “emancipation” bill on its way to the floor of the United States Congress. It is 1953 and he and other council members know the bill isn’t about freedom: Congress is fed up with Indians. The bill is a “termination” that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land and their very identity. How can the government abandon treaties made in good faith with Native Americans “for as long as the grasses shall grow, and the rivers run”?
Since graduating from high school, Pixie Paranteau has insisted that everyone call her Patrice. She makes jewel bearings at the plant, a job that pays barely enough to support her mother and younger brother. Patrice’s alcoholic father returns home sporadically to terrorize his wife and children, and to bully Patrice for money. But Patrice needs every penny to follow her beloved older sister, Vera, who moved to the big city of Minneapolis. Vera may have disappeared; she hasn’t been in touch in months and is rumored to have had a baby. Determined to find Vera and her child, Patrice makes a fateful trip to Minnesota that introduces her to unexpected forms of exploitation and violence and endangers her life.
Thomas and Patrice live in a reservation community. We also come to know young Chippewa boxer Wood Mountain and his mother, Juggie Blue, and Patrice’s best friend, Valentine, as well as Hay Stack Barnes, the white high school math teacher and boxing coach who is hopelessly in love with Patrice.
I am on a roll! At least reading-wise for I am already on my 62nd book for the year. This is my most in a year since 2016 when I read 92 books for the year (this was the year I was aiming for 100 books, but I, again, fell short, LOL). I guess I owe this one to the prolonged lockdown here in Philippines, allowing me to catch up with all my reading backlogs.
My current read, The Night Watchman is a book I didn’t plan on reading initially; it wasn’t even part of my 2020 Top 10 Books I Look Forward To. My interest in the book was piqued when I read USA Today’s list of Best books of 2020 so far: What USA TODAY’s critics loved reading. One of the 30 books in the list is this new novel from the National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich. Immediately, I purchased a copy of the book online (thankfully, our local bookstore has it in store).
The Night Watchman is my first Louise Erdrich novel although I previously bought a copy of Four Souls. Unfortunately, I never got to read it because I have a lot in line and Erdrich is an unfamiliar territory to me. Nonetheless, the blurb around The Night Watchman is too irresistible so I immediately immersed in it, making it my seventh “new” book for the year. “New” book refers to a book published in the same year. As a backlist reader, seven is quite an achievement; I had the same number last year. I guess that is enough for a prelude.
From the synopsis, the novel was inspired by Erdrich’s grandfather who was once a night watchman in rural North Dakota. To be honest, I am still getting my footing with Erdrich’s narrative. I have surmised that there is more than one strand to the story and the titular night watchman, Thomas Wazhanshk, is just one of them.
Surprisingly, I am finding myself a little confused with Thomas’ part of the narrative even though Erdrich’s writing is straightforward. But I think things will start making sense now as I am on the part where Thomas and his fellow Chippewa councilmen have convened to resist a proposed bill that is potentially going to leave them landless and homeless, worse, identity-less.
There is one narrative strand that is leaving an impression on me: the story of Patrice “Pixie” Paranteau. Just like Thomas, Pixie is a Chippewa American Indian living in the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation (where Erdrich and her sister hosts writing workshop). When her older sister Vera disappeared, she set out for the “City”, i.e. Minneapolis, Minnesota in search for her. The development of her romantic life provides another strand, and, mayhaps, some intrigue into the narrative.
I am halfway done with the book and I am looking forward to how Erdrich ties all these strands together. I am enjoying the fact that I am learning more about modern American Indian history, albeit a portion of it only, through this narrative. Although I think I have a good idea of how it is going to end, I am hoping that the Chippewas were able to stand their ground and win against those who oppress them. It’s going to be a good weekend for me and The Night Watchman is going to be a part of it.
How about you fellow reader, what book are you going to read this weekend? I hope it is a book that you’ve been looking forward to and I hope you enjoy it. Keep safe, and happy weekend!