(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Susan Power The Grass Dancer

Power is an American novelist.

Winner of the 1995 PEN/Ernest Hemingway Award for first fiction, The Grass Dancer is set in North Dakota on a Sioux reservation. Presented as a montage of stories told through the voices of several different narrators, the novel centers on Harley Wind Soldier's search for a sense of self and on the automobile accident that killed Harley's father and brother four weeks before Harley was born. Critics note that the movement of the stories between different time periods—including the 1980s, 1960s, 1930s, and 1860s—evokes the theme of the simultaneity of past and present, while the interaction of spirits in dreams and memories reinforces the idea that ancestors are continually present and active in everyday life. Magic also plays a major role in the novel, particularly in the actions of Red Dress, who exploited her magical powers of sexual attraction to kill a number of soldiers at Fort Laramie in the 1860s; Red Dress's grand-niece, Anna Thunder, also uses magical powers to bewitch young men, but she does so to exact revenge against others in the community. Anna is feared by everyone and her machinations against Harley's father contributed significantly to the accident that killed him. Critical reaction to The Grass Dancer has generally been favorable, with most commentators arguing that the novel's central concern is Native-American heritage and white society's treatment of Native-American history. In addition, critics have noted Power's portrayal of chance and its consequences as well as her depiction of the legacies of love and jealousy. As Linda Niemann has argued, Power "chooses to represent indigenous history not as a record of defeat but rather as a continuing process whose outcome is still uncertain."