Skins / Edition 1by Adrian C. Louis
Pub. Date: 05/15/1995
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Rudy Yellow Shirt, a full-blooded Oglala Sioux and a criminal investigator with the Pine Ridge Public Safety Department, spends most nights locking up drunk and disorderly Indians, frequently including his own ciye, his older brother Mogie. They live on the Pine Ridge Reservation, the home of Crazy Horse's tribe, where the Indian wars ended with the massacre at Wounded Knee, and where so many Oglala people try to maintain their ancient dignity while living on welfare checks and cans of surplus commodity foods distributed by the government. But when Rudy falls and hits his head on a rock, the spirit of Iktomi, the trickster, starts messing with his life.
Soon Rudy finds himself taking on the alter ego of the Avenging Warrior and dispensing swift vigilante justice to unlucky criminals. Then, one night, the Warrior decides to fire-bomb one of the liquor stores that hug the border of the reservation, and Iktomi plays his most diabolical trick, starting a chain of events that will change Rudy and Mogie's relationship forever.
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'Skins' opens with the protagonist, Rudy, as a boy, getting biten by a black widow spider when he visits the outhouse. In manhood, when he experiences impotence, he overcomes it by invoking the power of Iktomi, the spider-trickster of Lakota tradition. The closest thing to the trickster figure in the western tradition is the picaro, the striving, often foolish, usually vulnerable protagonist like Don Quixote. However, the trickster is a bit more self-indulgent and conniving, a bit more gullible when his self-interest is involved. The trickster perspective challenges the modish, pop-sociological presumptions with which Euro-culture might address this novel. Louis has Rudy Yellow Shirt consciously assuming the role of a trickster when he acts as an avenging warrior. He defecates on the RV floor of a wannabe Indian, but the act is more an upheaval of the bowels than of peurile vengeance. He engages in sexual intercourse with his estranged wife while she firmly says no while thrusting her hips. He helps his brother pull the old Halloween gag on the offending anthropologist by lighting a paper bag of dog dung and throwing the burning missile on his porch. These acts are all done as responses to conditions of reservation life that provides no cultural moorings for the people who live there. Louis uses the traditional trickster story approach to acknowledge the depressing facts of reservation life, and it pursuing that tradition, he transcends the pop-sociology inanities and cliches about why the Indian people live as they do. It may take some orientation into Native American literary traditions to get the gist of this story, but the effort will be rewarded by new dimensions of humor and deeper understandings of what has happened to our indigenous people.