Usually, one tries to start a review of a book by giving a sense of the set-up, the opening situation, and perhaps a little more of the plot. I find that next to impossible with this one. It’s not that there’s no plot — there are several, each revolving around one of the characters. Or perhaps it would be better to call them “stories”, because that’s what they are: the stories of these people, who meet, and part, and meet again, sometimes directly, sometimes only through the results of their actions.
The book, which occupies the same universe as the Newford stories, is set in the American Southwest, in and around a fictional Indian reservation inhabited by a fictional tribe, the Kikimi. Given the tenor of de Lint’s more recent books, one might reasonably assume that it is suffused with American Indian mythology and folklore. One would be correct.
Let’s start where de Lint does, with Thomas Corn Eyes, who has a shaman’s vision and desperately wants to get away from the rez. It’s not that he hates his tribe or its traditions; it’s just that there’s a whole world out there, and Thomas feels cramped: he wants to get out and see it. Or take Sadie Higgins, whose father kicks her out of the car in the desert and drives off. Perhaps understandably, Sadie is a badly damaged kid, and not very likeable. Steve Cole, who sees the incident and takes Sadie under his wing, has spent the past forty years living in the desert, on the run from things that weren’t really his fault, although he can’t shake the guilt. And there’s Leah Hardin, a journalist of a sort who has spent her life examining the career of the Diesel Rats, a rock band that imploded rather spectacularly, said implosion culminating in the death of front-man Jackson Cole in an airplane crash. Except maybe he didn’t die, the mere hint of which is enough to send Leah from Newford to the Kikimi reservation to investigate. Except maybe she’s investigating the wrong story.
There are other characters who are important and who impact all of these stories in one way or another: Abigail White Horse, who takes Sadie in and who unwillingly provides a central crisis that draws all the stories together; Reuben Little Tree, Thomas’ boss and leader of the dog boys, a sort of tribal police/guard force; Morago, the tribe’s shaman; Sammy Swift Grass, who’s turned his back on the tribe and opened a casino and hunting lodge on reservation lands; and not least, Consuela Mara, Raven’s first wife who calls herself “Night Woman” and keeps company with the spirit of death (who appears most often as a large black dog named Gordo); and her shadow-self, Si’tala, who holds all the memories that Consuela has gotten rid of.
About the dog boys: yes, they do turn into dogs. They’re not alone: a number of characters, starting with Steve’s girlfriend, Calico, are ma’inawo, “cousins”, who have the ability to wear either an animal (or plant — some of the cacti seem to move around a lot) or a human form, and to switch back and forth.
Which is by way of putting the overriding theme of the book into concrete form: it’s about transformation. Searching through memory, it occurs to me that this has been one of de Lint’s themes throughout his career, but in The Wind In His Heart it finds its clearest explication. And riding in tandem with transformation is another of his ongoing concerns: community, the sense that we are not alone but depend on each other. (Think about it: In the grand scheme of predator vs. prey, we’re not much: no sharp claws, no long teeth, no tough hide, just intelligence and our group.)
Although I’m generally reticent about throwing terms like “masterpiece” around, I think The Wind In His Heart can stand up under that sobriquet: de Lint’s tendency toward preachiness is now a matter of conversation rather than lectures; the setting, although fictional, is inescapably real; the characters, with all their foibles, become real people — and to put it in no uncertain terms, they are the book, which is as it should be but too often isn’t; the writing itself is fluent and somehow manages to build a rich narrative by means of a lean, almost spare diction. In fact, the writing is so deceptively understated that it’s not until you reach the end and start thinking back over what you’ve read that you realize just how big and complex this book is. It’s huge.
Let me put it this way: I’ve been reading de Lint’s fiction for about thirty years now, and a lot of it has been good enough to stand up under repeated readings. This one kicks the whole game up a notch.
(Triskell Press, 2017)
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