The Parrot Trainer

The Parrot Trainer

by Swain Wolfe

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At the center of this beguiling novel of the Southwest is an odd romantic triangle—an archaeologist, a former pot thief and art dealer, and a sassy spirit.

Jack, who had been a prominent art dealer and collector, finds a sketch of a parrot trainer from an ancient, Indian Mimbres bowl along with a map to a cliff dwelling, at the scene of a fatal accident. He


At the center of this beguiling novel of the Southwest is an odd romantic triangle—an archaeologist, a former pot thief and art dealer, and a sassy spirit.

Jack, who had been a prominent art dealer and collector, finds a sketch of a parrot trainer from an ancient, Indian Mimbres bowl along with a map to a cliff dwelling, at the scene of a fatal accident. He is fascinated by the image of a parrot trainer and her haunting gesture. Obsessed, he finds the bowl and is stung by something venomous as he descends the cliff. He manages to drive home in spite of his violent reaction to the venom. There, to his confusion, Willow, the Parrot Trainer, comes alive and begs him to free her spirit from the bowl. Jack is certain she is an hallucination, a product of his own mind.

Lucy, an archaeologist from the east, is in New Mexico to give a speech at a convention when she receives a call from Philip, a renowned archaeologist, her mentor and lover. Philip has discovered that a secret DNA test at Berkeley has identified a caucasoidal specimen from a 15,000-year-old body found in a glacier in Alaska and that the sample was sent by a Jack Miller in Silverado. This significant find could revive his waning celebrity. Philip asks Lucy to find Miller and get him to reveal the location of the man in the glacier.

After Lucy’s speech, she has a run-in with Henri, a pixieish deconstructionist, who is the subject of a documentary by edgy Anita and her wildman/cameraman Billy. When Anita and Billy learn of Lucy’s plan to go to Silverado, they offer to take her so they can film the fireworks between Lucy and Henri. The drive from Albuquerque to Silverado turns into an antic—and sometimes violent—road trip, as they clash with each other and provoke the locals.

Tweaking knee-jerk political correctness and academia, Swain Wolfe provides a rich archaeological and anthropological background that deals with some of the fields’ most controversial issues. Witty, sexy, and packed with local color, this is a novel of ideas with the additional appeal of enchanting magic realism, high adventure, and a tender love story.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Wolfe draws knowledgeably on the culture of a vanished New Mexican tribe in his latest novel of the contemporary West (after The Lake Dreams the Sky), but fails to breathe much life into his present-day protagonists. Jack Miller is a swaggering, play-by-his-own-rules art collector who has made a fortune peddling forged Southwestern antiquities. Now in retirement, he discovers the body of a German tourist who had happened upon a major find: a hidden cache of pottery belonging to the Mimbres, a Southwestern tribe that died out long before Columbus even considered the New World. Jack locates the cache and grabs the prize piece, a bowl depicting a beautiful parrot trainer, but-perhaps due to the effects of an insect sting-the female spirit of the trainer begins to haunt Jack's imagination. There's also a real-life woman to contend with, archeologist Lucy Perelli, whose moral approach to pottery hunting clashes with Jack's more fluid ethic. As Wolfe steers Jack and Lucy toward the expected romance, they are joined by a clownish French theorist named Henri Bash and his film crew, and trailed by two lowlife characters called Rat and Raw Bone. Despite their constant banter, Jack and Lucy don't have much chemistry, and the brief discussion of white exploitation of American Indian culture is too lightweight to salvage a predictable plot. Readers with an interest in the Southwest will enjoy Wolfe's playful take on the culture, but those further afield won't find much to hold their attention. Regional author tour. (Feb. 1) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The Parrot Trainer is a strange mix of comedy, archeology and hallucination. The story begins when Jack Miller, an unrepentant finder and seller of Southwestern Indian antiquities, especially of the Mimbres tribe, witnesses an auto accident and finds clues in the wreck to a newly discovered site. What follows is a combination of strange characters, some real and some not, and observations about the Southwestern cultures of the past and the present and the similarity between the legal and illegal collection of archaeological finds. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2003, St. Martin's, Griffin, 310p. bibliog., Ages 15 to adult.
—Nola Theiss
Library Journal
This is a novel about archaeology, academia, postmodernist theory, enduring love, motorcycle gangs, documentary filmmaking, rain, impermanence, and life in the Southwest, past and present. Jack Miller is a reformed looter of American Indian antiquities who illegally tracks down one last Mimbres bowl, enchanted by its image of a female parrot trainer. Bitten by a scorpion while retrieving the bowl from a cave, Jack hallucinates (or does he?) that the beautiful woman comes to life in his living room and talks about her people, the Mimbres, who lived in New Mexico 1000 years ago. Montana filmmaker Wolfe, author of The Lake Dreams the Sky and The Woman Who Lives in the Earth, has created a surprisingly sweet narrative both real and surreal that places the reader vividly in the Southwest. There is a bibliography for readers who wish to learn more about Southwestern cultures and archaeology. Recommended for all public libraries.-Lisa Bier, Southern Connecticut State Univ., New Haven, CT
Kirkus Reviews
A witty send-up of antiquarians and academics by Wolfe (The Lake Dreams the Sky, 1998, etc.) combines a dead German anthropologist, a trendy French postmodernist, a Native American pottery forger, and a shady art dealer for a southwestern comedy of errors. Jack Miller, dealer in Native American artifacts, is in Lacuna Canyon one day when a Ford Taurus drives off the canyon ledge above him and lands a few feet away. Inside are the mortal remains of a German anthropologist, along with a map and journal describing the location of a Mimbre burial site. This is Jack's lucky day: The Mimbre are an extinct tribe famed for their extraordinary pottery, and, before laws were passed restricting its sale, Jack made good money buying and selling Mimbre pieces. He hurries to the site and discovers an antiquarian's dream: a tomb filled with rare Mimbre artifacts in perfect condition. When he secretly sends a bone fragment to a local lab for dating estimates, however, all hell breaks loose: The skeleton belongs to a tribe never seen in the region before, providing evidence of prehistoric migrations that archaeologists have been arguing over for decades. The discovery is leaked to Lucy Perelli, director of the Archaeological Preservation Fund, who descends on Lacuna Canyon in a whirlwind, desperate to find the site before anyone else. But she's not exactly alone, since the French social theorist Henri Bashe, who met her at an Albuquerque conference, insists on coming along-together with the film crew that's shooting a Reel TV documentary of him. At the palatial home of wealthy art collector Sylvia Siskin, Lucy discovers the Indian art forger Kills the Deer, who worked with Jack in the past and nowreluctantly agrees to help Lucy find him. Jack, meanwhile, is trying to figure out how much loot he can get away with before the Treasury Department and State Police track him down. Subtle, sophisticated fun that will appeal to anyone who has ever suffered through an academic conference-or an episode of Antiques Roadshow.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.68(w) x 8.64(h) x 1.16(d)

What People are saying about this

...a delightful, insightful comedy of archeological manners...The Parrot Trainer is entertainment of the highest order.

Meet the Author

A former documentary filmmaker, Swain Wolfe is the author of The Woman Who Lives in the Earth and The Lake Dreams the Sky. He lives in Missoula, Montana.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
Place of Birth:
Denver, Colorado

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