Critical Context

Set in the period immediately prior to the uprising in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Griever deals with China’s internal political conflicts. The book reveals that the Chinese acknowledge the need for international trade that will attract Western dollars, yet the nation is mired in an oxcart society in which change, while inevitable, will not be orderly.

Here is a society in which people shoot rats for meat and for the skins to be fashioned into shoes. In sharp contrast to this sort of economy is a boom in Beijing that sees the opening of Maxim’s, a restaurant where lunch will cost the equivalent of what an average worker earns in four months.

With considerable irony, Vizenor writes that people are discouraged from drinking distilled spirits when they eat dog meat because to do so is thought to cause hemorrhoids. He goes on to say, however, that this is a small price to pay for the consumption of a devoted pet. Such biting ironies are typical of this book and of Vizenor’s other novels, some of which share characters from Griever.

It is not easy to compare Vizenor’s writing to that of his contemporaries. His approach and style are unique. At times, because of his frequent temporal and geographical shifts, his writing reminds one of J. R. R. Tolkien’s or of Lewis Carroll’s, although Vizenor is by no means derivative. The fantasy world he constructs reminds one of these two authors, yet Vizenor’s work also exudes the mysticism of Native American tradition.