The Grass Dancer

( 4 )


On a Sioux reservation in North Dakota potent forces converge today, as they have for centuries. Ancestral ghosts make their presence known among the living. Dreams inspire journeys, both literal and physical. The dying are summoned to a council fire "five steps beyond the edge of the universe." And, through it all, good medicine and bad magic nudge the intricate twists of fate.

Such is the setting for Susan Power's debut novel, The Grass Dancer, itself a remarkable journey ...

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On a Sioux reservation in North Dakota potent forces converge today, as they have for centuries. Ancestral ghosts make their presence known among the living. Dreams inspire journeys, both literal and physical. The dying are summoned to a council fire "five steps beyond the edge of the universe." And, through it all, good medicine and bad magic nudge the intricate twists of fate.

Such is the setting for Susan Power's debut novel, The Grass Dancer, itself a remarkable journey through many times and many realms. Power, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, has created a spellbinding collection of interwoven tales that not only illuminate the hearts, minds, and spirits of an unforgettable cast of characters but also offer startling insights into the use and abuse of power.

In the first contemporary scene of The Grass Dancer a young man's life is struck by tragedy for the second time. Harley Wind Soldier, whose father and older brother were killed in a car accident four weeks before his birth, meets Pumpkin, an unusual and irresistible young woman, at an inter-tribal powwow. After astonishing the crowd with her command of the ritual "grass dance," Pumpkin spends the night with Harley, and both discover she is the one who can light the empty corners of his soul. But the next day, Pumpkin is killed in a car crash. An accident perhaps, or the work of Mercury Thunder - the reservation witch whose granddaughter, Charlene, has also set her sights on Harley.

As the novel unfolds, we learn more of the complex, intertwined histories that ultimately brought this scenario into being. We learn of Harley's family secret and of the true reason his mother, Lydia, relinquished her power of speech when she was widowed. We learn of Charlene's bondage to--and ultimate liberation from--a grandmother who everyone on the reservation rightfully fears. And we learn what awful circumstance could bring a woman such as Mercury Thunder to manipulate her tremendous gift of power for evil ends.

Along the way we encounter many others whose individual stories are threads in this larger tapestry. Jeannette McVay is a teacher at the Indian school who came to study Indian "superstition" and finds herself inextricably bound to the reservation as if by a preternatural tie. Red Dress and Ghost Horse are two formidable spirits whose influence extends across boundaries of death. Harley's grandmother, Margaret Many Wounds, stops on her way to the ancestral council fire to frolic on the moon with the Apollo astronauts.

The Grass Dancer is a cornucopia of legends and legacies, secrets and surprises. As one layer of its tale is peeled away, another is revealed, until we are left with a core of understanding of the hopes, dreams, values, and attitudes that inform people and a culture across the generations. Power is a storyteller whose narratives are so vivid that readers are, time and again, shocked when they realize what they have been told is a fictional tale.

From the lore of her people, the Sioux, Susan Power presents an extraordinary debut novel rich in drama and infused with magic. Set on a North Dakota reservation, this book weaves the stories of the old and the young, broken families, romantic rivals, and men and women in love and at war. Historical Fiction

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A major talent debuts with this beguiling novel whose characters are Dakota Sioux and their spirit ancestors. Covering some of the same themes as Louise Erdrich but displaying her own distinctive voice and transcendent imagination, Power has produced an authentic portrait of Native American culture and characters who are as resilient and tangible as the grass moving over the Great Plains. In interconnected stories that begin in 1981 and range back to 1864, the residents of a Sioux reservation endure poverty, epidemic illness, injustice and--no less importantly--jealousy, greed, anger and unrequited love. The tales begin and end with Harley Wind Soldier, a 17-year-old whose soul is a ``black, empty hole'' because his mother has not spoken a word since the accident 17 years earlier in which Harley's father and brother died. Eventually we discover the true circumstances surrounding that event and other secrets--of clandestine love affairs, of childrens' paternity--that stretch back several generations but hold a grip on the present. Meanwhile, Harley falls in love with enchanting Pumpkin, an amazingly adept grass dancer whose fate will make readers gasp. Mercury Thunder and her daughter Anna use magic in a sinister way, and tragedy results. Herod Small War, a Yuwipi (interpreter of dreams), tries to bring his community into harmony with the spiritual world. The existence of ghosts in the real world is accepted with calm belief by the characters, who know the old legends and understand that the direction of their lives is determined by their gods and ancestors. Power weaves historical events--the Apollo Moon landing; the 19th-century Great Plains drought--into her narrative, reinforcing the seamless coexistence of the real and the spirit realm. A consummate storyteller whose graceful prose is plangent with lyrical metaphor and sensuous detail, she deftly uses suspense, humor, irony and the gradual revelation of dramatic disclosures to compose a tapestry of human life. Seduced by her humane vision and its convincing depiction, one absorbs the traditions and lore of the Sioux community with a sense of wonder reflecting that with which the characters view the natural world. This is a book that begs to be read at one sitting, and then again. A chapter appeared in The Best American Short Stories 1993. BOMC and QPB selection. (Aug.)
Library Journal
In this magical first novel, Powers threads together contemporary Native American reservation life with the legends of her Dakota Sioux ancestors. (LJ 10/1/94)
School Library Journal
YA-Rich in myth and legend, this powerful story of the Dakota Indians flows seamlessly back and forth in time from 1864-1982. In the mid-1860s, a young Sioux maiden, Red Dress, translates the sermons of Father La Frambois but deliberately misinterprets the Jesuit's message, through which he hoped to convert her tribe. In a dream, she sees herself in a western settlement and is compelled to journey to Fort Laramie where she observes the violence, hypocrisy, and emptiness of frontier life. Here she becomes secretary to the zealous Rev. Pike, and falls victim to the ultimate treachery when she is murdered by the crazed preacher. In a moving ceremony immediately after her death, the grief stricken Ghost Horse symbolically marries Red Dress. He lives on as a sacred clown and frenetic dancer among his people. The memory of these two restless spirits haunts generations to come with illustrative signs, mysterious visions, and fateful interference. The strength of the novel lies in the meshing of the various stories of the descendants of Red Dress and Ghost Horse so that they all come together in one piece. The result is a passionate portrayal of universal human emotions and a vivid account of Native American history and culture.-Jackie Gropman, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA
Mary Ellen Quinn
In an impressive debut, Power writes about her people, the Sioux of North Dakota. Each chapter can stand alone as a short story, but recurring characters provide unity, and the book takes on added depth and resonance as the stories unfold. Power follows her own chronology, moving back and forth across time and generations, layering the voices of the old and young, the living and the dead. Among the voices are those of Anna Thunder, who tries to run the lives of her daughter, Crystal, and her granddaughter, Charlene. Red Dress, Anna's ancestor, narrates the story "Snakes," in which destiny takes her to Fort Laramie to exact revenge for crimes against her people. Red Dress still presides over the tribe in dreams and visions long after she has died. In the especially beautiful "Moonwalk," Margaret Many Wounds lies dying while her twin daughters, Evelyn and Lydia, are busy in the kitchen preparing her last meal, a bowl of Sioux corn soup, and the television broadcasts astronauts walking on the moon. Death for Margaret means a moon walk of her own. Her daughter Lydia marries Calvin Wind Soldier, coveted by Anna Thunder. When Calvin is killed, Lydia stops speaking. Later, Lydia and Calvin's son, Harley, is loved by Anna's granddaughter Charlene. The strongest characters are women, except for Herod Small War, and elderly man who in "The Medicine Hole" is confused by his wife's new independence, and follows a vision of the past. Comparisons between Power and Louise Erdrich are probably inevitable, but Power has her own unique vision and voice.
From Barnes & Noble
Set on a Sioux reservation in North Dakota, this novel recounts a story about the connections among generations and how the actions of our ancestors affect contemporary life. The author weaves a myriad of folk motifs into the fabric of present-day reality.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425149621
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/28/1995
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 620,894
  • Age range: 18 years
  • Lexile: 890L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.32 (w) x 6.68 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Power is an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Her short fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, High Plains Literary Review, and Story. A chapter from The Grass Dancer, her first novel, was selected for The Best American Short Stories 1993.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2003

    Magical and Captivating.

    This happends to be one of my favorite books ever it is moving powerful,haunting,vivid, compelling.A pleasure in all respects a sipmly wonderful read filled with the power of these remarkable ancient peoples the Sioux.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2002

    Profound and Moving

    The Grass Dancer is a profound and moving coming-of-age story filled with the vision and beauty of the Sioux people. Power's lyrical prose and colorful characters make the book a wonderful read.

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    Posted July 25, 2010

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    Posted July 26, 2009

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