Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Ron Querry presents a somewhat less dismal picture of life for young Indians than have other recent writers dealing with similar material. Most of the experiences of the Lefthand sisters are relatively pleasant. They travel often: to powwows where Bernadette is a fancy dancer, to Taos to visit their mother’s sister and bask in warm family feelings, to rodeos on the Navajo reservation, and to see friends on Hopi land. When her son is born, Bernadette finds in her enjoyment of motherhood a distraction from her concern over Anderson George’s increasing reliance on alcohol and his developing friendship with Emmett Take Horse.

At the same time, Querry does not ignore or minimize the problems faced by his characters. Bernadette and Anderson both have to face the reality that however enjoyable their lives have been as teenagers, no matter how much admiration they have won for their skills, there is little hope of rewarding careers for them as adults. Starr Stubbs offers employment to both of them (she hires Anderson to look after her horses) and friendship to Bernadette, but she cannot change the basic conditions of their lives. Life on the Jicarilla lands around Dulce offers no more opportunity for rewarding employment than does life on the Navajo reservation, where more than half of the adults are unemployed.

Still, other novels dealing with similar material, including James Welch’s Winter in the Blood (1974) and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony (1977), have focused more intensely on the depressing aspects of contemporary Indian life and on the dependence on alcohol of many adults on the reservations of the Southwest. Querry is more interested than these writers in the significance of the survival of witchcraft among the Navajo, although in the end he leaves open the question of whether the methods of witchcraft have genuine effects on their targets.