5 out of 5 stars: Cloquet River Press review of The Road Back to Sweetgrass
Normally I’m up by 5:00am writing or managing my little press. This morning, images from Linda Grover’s latest novel bouncing around in my head like so many Indian legends and folk tales, I’m up at 4:00am. Way too early on a work day. But there it is. The power of great prose, or, as in the case of Grover’s previous book,The Dance Boots, and that of another Northland icon, Louis Jenkins, the power of poetry as prose, creates patterns and drumbeats whose echoes do not fade. The soft shuffle of deerskin against sand, the wind chattering through wild rice, the smell of frybread bubbling in lard, the angst of removal and betrayal, and the loss and the redemptive power of familial and romantic love are all here in this very slender novel centered around two endearing and universally appealing characters, Margie Robineau and Joseph (‘Zho’) Washington, and their able supporting cast. Written in a style and cadence that, for this waabishkiiwed (white man) replicates Native oral storytelling; sly and humor-filled, ironic and poignant, and non-linear as to time, in a manner that exchanges the first and third person without transition, excuse, or warning, Sweetgrass is a very different sort of prose from the equally powerful but much more straight forward style of Jim Northrup, another Ojibwe storyteller living in the Arrowhead Region of northeastern Minnesota. How well does Grover’s language translate from campfire to printed page? In this short excerpt, the author’s depiction of the sensuality exuded by Margie’s friend, Theresa, while cooking frybread, the reader is treated to a glimpse of Grover’s power as an elder relating an imagined familial history:
Theresa’s face was flushed and shiny with heat from the woodstove and from cooking; she had unbuttoned the top button of her blouse while she worked, and from the space between her breasts an almost invisible steam of Emeraude and perspiration mingled with the sweet Juicy Fruit scent of her breath and the warm, enticing scent of frybread to rise and float over the table.