The Sharpest Sight Essay - The Sharpest Sight

Louis Owens

The Sharpest Sight

Readers with an interest in contemporary American Indian authors and literature will no doubt be grateful that series editor Gerald Vizenor has elected to showcase this exceptional series with THE SHARPEST SIGHT. The novel’s setting shifts between rural northern California and the dark swamps of Mississippi. Attis McCurtain, a Mixed-blood Choctaw and emotionally scarred Vietnam veteran, has been murdered and his body is being carried toward the sea by a muddy, rain-swollen river. Attis’ best friend, mixed-blood Hispanic policeman Mundo Morales, sets out to discover the person responsible for the murder. At the same time, the dead man’s brother, Cole, embarks upon his own primordial search: the search for his brother’s bones.

At first glance this book shares some aspects of the mystery thriller, but closer examination proves that it is much more than that. The novel’s best writing derives from its informed focus on cultural collisions and its almost mythical quality. Ghosts and shadows speak aloud: in dreams and in fact. Cole McCurtain is magically summoned—by his fullblood Uncle Luther and the wonderfully-drawn ONATIMA (“Old Lady Blue Wood”)—to the ancestral Choctaw homeland in the swamps of Mississippi. It is in the dark swamp that the frightened and restless spirit of Attis McCurtain awaits the discovery and picking of his bones—the picking of the bones of the dead being a powerful and essential rite in early Choctaw cosmology.

Louis Owens, himself of mixed-blood Choctaw, Cherokee, and Irish descent, provides an insider’s look at the search for traditional cultural values in a world gone slightly screwy....

(The entire section is 675 words.)