Shell Shaker Summary

Shell Shaker by LeAnne Howe examines, in overlapping narration, the murders of two powerful men in Choctaw society.

  • The Shell Shaker (or peacemaker) Shakbatina sacrifices herself in 1738 so that her daughter Anoleta will not be executed for murdering another wife of her husband, the warrior Red Shoes. Later, in 1747, Anoleta’s sister Haya pushes Red Shoes into a fire, killing him.
  • In 1991, Auda Billy shoots the Choctaw chief Red McAlester, her partner, who had raped her the previous day. Auda’s mother, Susan, confesses to committing the murder.
  • Ultimately, the spirit of Shakbatina says that she and Auda killed McAlester together.

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In 1738, Shakbatina, a peacemaker from the Choctaw Inholahta tribe, offers herself as a blood sacrifice to prevent her daughter Anoleta from being executed for murder. Anoleta is accused of murdering the Red Fox wife of a man she is also married to, Red Shoes.

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In 1991, Auda Billy, a woman living in Durant, Oklahoma, receives a vision from Shakbatina of a group of Shell Shakers, or peacemakers. The previous day, Redford McAlester, the chief of the Oklahoma Choctaws and Auda’s partner, had raped her. A wildfire has begun in the area, which has drawn news crews. Auda drives through these to the Choctaw Nation headquarters. She shoots—or thinks she shoots—McAlester, then loses consciousness. She and her mother, Susan, are taken to prison, where Susan confesses to the murder.

Tema Billy, Auda’s sister, is currently playing Nora in a Dallas Theater production of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House alongside her British husband, Borden. One night, she hears a voice tell her that she has killed Red Shoes, and she tells her husband they must leave. The next day, Tema’s son, Hoppy, brings her a fax telling her what has happened with McAlester and her sister. She goes to Oklahoma.

Adair Billy, the third sister, is in New Orleans, where she works in financial services. She is proud of her sister Auda but remembers an occasion when Auda became drunk after a contentious academic conference. Adair had sex that night with a lawyer, Gore Battiste, whom she still thinks about. When Adair hears what has happened to McAlester, she hires Gore and heads back home.

Isaac Billy, the women’s uncle, goes to his ranch after the Billy house is searched by a sheriff. Isaac is angry that Hector D’Amato, McAlester’s college roommate, has convinced Carl Tonica, the acting chief, to ban the Billys from the headquarters.

Hoppy arrives at Isaac’s ranch with Nick Carney, an artist whose “Big Peanutmobile” had once performatively stolen the town’s peanut sculpture. Nick wants to lay low at the ranch. Isaac takes the boys to Talihina to see the wise woman “Divine Sarah,” whom Isaac thinks will be able to help them.

Divine Sarah tells Isaac that spirits have returned to pick a fight with his family. She tells the story of Red Shoes, who was intended to be a messenger between the Chickasaws and the Choctaws but actually caused much death. Redford McAlester, she tells him, is Red Shoes returning to create more trouble.

Isaac has a vision of Vico and Hector D’Amato, McAlester’s associates, arguing in Italian over McAlester’s dead body. The men return to the Billy house. When Gore arrives alongside Tema and Adair, Susan confesses McAlester’s murder to him.

Auda and Adair discuss the strange dreams they have all been having. Auda and her mother have been at odds for years because of Auda’s involvement with McAlester. Auda explains to Gore that she became angry with McAlester after he set up the Casino of the Sun, which seemed to deposit more money than it reported making. She had begun stealing documents to prove he was money laundering. McAlester had also been financing the Irish Republican Army. Ten million dollars have gone missing, and she doesn’t know where the money is.

Auda’s sisters infer that she has...

(The entire section contains 1752 words.)

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