Abel, a young Jemez Pueblo Indian, returns to his New Mexico village in 1945 after fighting in the Pacific theater during World War II. The war leaves him emotionally devastated and unable to participate in the world he left behind, the world of his grandfather, Francisco. Now an old man with a lame leg, Francisco in his youth was a respected hunter and participant in the village’s religious ceremonies. He raised Abel from a young age, after the death of Abel’s mother and older brother, Vidal (Abel does not know who his father is). Francisco instilled in Abel a sense of native traditions and values, but the war and other events severed Abel’s connections to that world of spiritual and physical wholeness and to the land and its people, a world known as a “house made of dawn.”
At about the same time Abel returns to his village, Angela St. John, a rich, unhappy white woman, arrives to indulge in the area’s mineral baths. Through Father Olguin, the village’s well-meaning but isolated and ineffective Catholic priest, she hires Abel to chop the wood at the house she rents. Disenchanted with her own life and ambivalent about her new pregnancy, she is instantly attracted to Abel and soon seduces him. Angela senses an animal-like quality in Abel that she hopes will revive her flagging emotional health. She also senses Abel’s sadness and promises to help Abel find a good job and get off the New Mexico reservation.
One rainy night, Abel has a fight with a sinister and mysterious albino man, Juan Reyes, described almost exclusively as “the white man.” Abel surmises that Juan is a witch; outside a bar, in the rain, he stabs Juan to death. At his trial, Abel...
(The entire section is 689 words.)