Thursday, January 4, 2024

Winter in the Blood

Winter in the BloodWinter in the Blood by James Welch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A teacher recommended this book and I dutifully picked it up and inhabited another world, a Montana reservation where members of the Gros Ventre and Blackfeet tribes live outside of towns such as Harlem, Dodson, Havre, where they grow grain and run cattle. James Welch writes with humor and truth. His dialogue skills are rich and authentic: "Why don't you settle down?" I said to my hands. "Pay up," said the bartender. When he left, I said, "If you settled down you'd be a lot better off; you'd be happier, believe me, Agnes." "You bore me," she said. "You should learn a trade, shorthand," I said. "There's a crying demand for secretaries." She looked at me as if she didn't recognize me. "Shorthand?" she squealed.
His images of nature and characters put you right out on that flat grazing land of the West. "Evening now and the sky had changed to pink reflected off the high western clouds. A pheasant gabbled from a field to the south. A lone cock, he would be stepping from the wild rose along an irrigation ditch to the sweet alfalfa field, perhaps to graze with other cocks and hens, perhaps alone. It is difficult to tell what cocks will do when they grow old. They are like men, full to twists." Welch started as a poet and is quoted in Louise Erdrich's introduction: "we are storytellers from a long way back. And we will be heard for generations to come." The book was published fifty years ago and I am as excited about reading it as if it were just out, a new discovery. And his storyteller credentials are evident in the braided tale describing a cattle drive perfectly paced with a bar spree. The narrator describes his mother, "she had always had a clear bitter look, not without humor, that made the others of us seem excessive, too eager to talk too much, drink too much, breathe too fast...I much she had come to resemble the old lady." Highly recommended.

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