Trespass Against Us

Larry Woiwode, the North Dakota novelist (I do not mean that in a diminishing way), has described his fiction as "a continuing spiritual exercise that any reader may join in on." His fifth novel, Indian Affairs, is a fitfully satisfying workout. 

Indian Affairs reintroduces us to Chris Van Eananam, a graduate student, and his wife Ellen; a brace of mopes whose honeymoon in her grandparents' cabin in Northern Michigan was the pregnant centerpiece of Woiwode's first novel, What I'm Going To Do, I Think (1969). It is now 1971; the couple returns to the cabin in the dead of winter so that Chris can finish a dissertation on another melancholy Midwesterner, Saginaw's Theodore Roethke. 

Chris hails from Rock Creek, "a Wisconsin backwater with families so inter related every relationship had the aura of incest." His father "had a Blackfoot's clear complexion" but claimed, incredibly, to be Dutch. Chris knows what's in the woodpile; fumblingly, he tackles his own Indian problem. He has always kept his distance from Indians, especially the young hotspurs, whom he views with a mixture of fear and fascination, the way suburban teens regard black kids draped in L. A. Kings capes. To appease their demands (and to keep from get ting his bell rung) Chris reluctantly buys the underage boys beer; he tries to mollify them (in fine irony) by reading...

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