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About Adrian C. Louis' Fiction

Staring at the Sun
By David Bowman

[A review of Wild Indians & Other Creatures By Adrian C. Louis, 185 pp. Reno: University of Nevada Press.]

There’s nothing politically correct about Adrian C. Louis's wild, sometimes foolish, sometimes poignant, often cartoony and sporadically brilliant collection of short fiction, which transplants traditional Indian stories and characters to Budweiser-era America.

In the very first one, a tricky dude named Coyote is arrested by female dogcatchers and is thrown into the clink, ("He didn't move, thinking of Rodney King and knowing firsthand what a police baton felt like when it kissed the fur.") Coyote is then shot dead by a Teutonic female jailer only to be resurrected three days later, on Easter Sunday. In the next story, he's arrested again after stealing some beer from an old white cowboy. In yet another one, he beholds a monster's face inside a glass of "psychedelic gin"- it's only after several attempts to obliterate this horror that he realizes he's looking at his own reflection.

Coyote is joined by a rowdy cast of characters that includes Raven, another trickster, who has a Sioux wife named Alicia (a former nun), and Old Bear, who has a fondness for Aqua Velva and an eye for the two blond English teachers at the nearby Indian school. Usually rambunctious, these animals are also decidedly unpredictable: Raven is skeptical about the writings of Black Elk, and when it comes to television ("the constantly running mind-control machine"), he's a couch potato for Pierre Franey's "Cuisine Rapide."

As its title suggests, "Wild Indians & Other Creatures" intersperses animal tales with stories about semi-realistic flesh-and-blood Indians, who are treated in an equally irreverent fashion. Among the reappearing Indian characters are a hard-drinking whore and an in-the-closet gulf war veteran. As for non-native Americans, they appear more as Vista-style irritants than outright demons. Just about the worst thing they do here is ask inane questions about the movie "A Man Called Horse."

The book's publisher would have us believe that Mr. Louis's writing will "startle readers who harbor romantic notions of contemporary Native American life." Discounting kids who are fans of "Pocahontas," are there any Americans left who actually harbor such notions? Mr. Louis (who teaches at Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and is a member of the Lovelock Paiute Indian Tribe) holds nothing back when it comes to poverty and low life. But that's not all he reveals.

There's a funny story about two poachers who "murder" Mickey Mouse. And a tender but warped one that pushes the boundaries of bad taste to become truly affecting, about a man who fabricates a dream to seduce a woman who stutters. The best in the collection, "Sunshine Boy," concerns a child with Down syndrome who blissfully stares at the sun until it blinds him. Mr. Louis starts off this story sardonically, then surprises us with its (and his own) heartfelt grace.

From The New York Times, October 27, 1996. Copyright 1996 by The New York Times

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