Welcome to the Seventh Annual Conference of the Society for Protection and Reclamation of Indian Images. Expect to find, amid all the refined cultural observations, academic posturing, and political maneuvering, an Indian who defies anyone to protect, let alone reclaim, her image. This is Shirley Mounter, a Tuscarora woman and the chief storyteller among the acerbic, eloquent, and often hilarious speakers who overflow the pages of this latest novel by the noted Onondaga writer Eric Gansworth. A lecture on Indian stereotypes by Shirley’s daughter, art historian Annie Boans, calls forth Shirley’s recollections, whose outpourings deposit us in the turbulent yet restorative waters of modern Iroquoian reservation life, always flowing and eddying around kin.
Indeed, Shirley’s house and land are now, after a long and bitter fight, forever lost to her in the construction of a water reservoir that feeds the government’s hydroelectric plant. The story of this battle is the story of Shirley’s generation and the faltering generation that follows—of violent love and losses, of children turning away only to find themselves forever negotiating the nuances of identity, of popular culture in jarring juxtaposition with the sometimes even more incredible realities of Native life. Weaving a complex narrative illustrated with his own paintings, Gansworth creates a rich, wry, and multifaceted tapestry of the intricate twists and turns of coincidence, memories, and stories that bind Native families together.