(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Drawn from the author’s experiences of growing up as a Native American in a white-dominated society, The Jailing of Cecelia Capture consists of the reflections of the title character, who is spending a weekend in jail after her arrest for drunk driving. She scans her entire life, discovering that in many ways she has been repeatedly imprisoned by her society and culture.

The novel begins in jail. Cecelia’s immediate fears center on the compulsory mugshots: They will make her look ugly, because she could not fix her face and hair. She recognizes that only a woman would care about this, and only in a culture that disproportionately glorified female attractiveness. In a cell with a white prostitute and a black thug, Cecelia realizes that, like them, she has spent her life trying to attract men. She bypasses the chance to call her husband for help, reassured that she will be released as soon as she sobers up.

Gradually, she pieces the past day, her birthday, together. As usual, she had forced herself through the deadening routine of law school, alleviating the pain with a rare thermos of wine to celebrate the day. The alcohol brings little relief; only the pressures of professional school keep at bay the emptiness of her life. She lives in a shabby apartment with few pleasantries; her husband—by now a husband in name only—and children are hundreds of miles and several months away; she has no transportation in the rainy winter of San Francisco Bay; her life consists of unrelieved study; she feels overweight and unattractive. Her most recent effort at romance lasted one night with a nameless man. At school, she has to confront a lover whom she reluctantly left after learning he already had a permanent relationship. Yet the wine at least...

(The entire section is 724 words.)