Thursday, September 4, 2008

Truth, beauty, and hard facts in fiction

Time for a break, after last night's orgy of insults at the Republican convention. After that excessive display of the politics of greed and power. After that surreal scene in which the hatted and buttoned sign-bobbing audience chanted "Drill, baby, drill!" in some very weird trance of aggressive desire for a vanishing resource, a pep talk for raping the earth, a scene right out of Edward Abbey or Christopher Buckley of a world gone smacking mad, I find myself thinking of a beautiful, poetic, intelligent, earth-loving, compassionate, complex, and haunting novel by a writer of deep conscience and high imagination. Linda Hogan writes from a Native American perspective and with a fluent ecological understanding. She is also a mesmerizing storyteller. Leave the world of lies and camera-ready political theater in which a baby is used shamelessly as a prop--although I rather liked the youngest sister moistening her hand with spit to smooth down her baby brother's hair--and escape to Linda Hogan's seacoast world.

From Booklist, of course.

*Starred Review* People of the Whale.By Linda Hogan.2008. 320p. Norton, $24.95 (9780393064575).
REVIEW First published July, 2008 (Booklist).

“The ocean is a great being”; each whale is a planet, so much life does it sustain. These are truths Thomas and Ruth’s Northwest Pacific Coast tribe once held as self-evident. Sweethearts since childhood, they each inherited a working intimacy with the ocean, and their marriage is joyful until Thomas goes off to fight in Vietnam. Ruth is pregnant when he leaves, and when he doesn’t return, she devotes herself to their son, who possesses the old gift for communing with whales. Thomas reappears when his fellow Vietnam vets decide to break the ban on whale hunting, hoping to reclaim his legacy as the grandson of a legendary whale hunter. But the others are motivated by greed, and tribal traditions are grievously desecrated. Hogan, a poet, essayist, and quintessential econovelist (Power, 1998), dramatizes the interconnectivity of cultural extinction, environmental destruction, and war as she parallels Ruth’s courageous defense of the living world with Thomas’ suffering and secret life in Vietnam. She also links the near genocide of aboriginal peoples with the near extinction of marine life. Deeply ecological, original, and spellbinding, Hogan ascends to an even higher plane in this hauntingly beautiful novel of the hidden dimensions of life, and all that is now imperiled. —Donna Seaman

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