Gerald Vizenor, Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles
This novel, a revised version of Vizenor’s 1978 debut, is super wacky—it’s a deconstructed journey through a gasoline-less post-apocalyptic America that weaves in satire, slapstick, the traditional trickster figure, and “mythic verism,” a kind of paradoxical marriage of truth and traditional myth, while challenging—well, just about everything. For the irreverent (and strong-stomached) reader.
_Bearheart_ is a wild dystopian ride through the American heartland. Some unnamed natural disaster has deprived the United States of its petroleum reserves. Consequently, in order to meet the growing needs for wood fuels, the governmet has nationalized timber on Indian reservations. These actions lead to a chain of events that displace Proude Cedarfair, the guardian a certain cedar grove, from his ancestral lands. The reader journeys with Proude, picking up an assortment of pilgrims along the way, to Pueblo Bonito, New Mexico.
This work deserves to be read alongside classic satiric journeys from Western literature, such as Chaucer’s _The Canterbury Tales_ and Voltaire’s _Candide_.
When this book was first published, Jimmy Carter was President and the nation’s dependance on foreign oil was stimulating new initiatives to drain natural resources from Indian reservations with as little benefit to the inhabitants as possible. Vizenor used this political context to craft a story that pokes fun at conventional ideas regarding tribal peoples, resource exploitation, and a lot more.
Despite the mature and sometimes unorthodox content, the explanation of terminal creeds, the postmodern writing, and the satire of a world that has drained itself to extinction make this novel highly enjoyable. The story takes place in post-apocalyptic America, where a man named Proude Cedarfair, chief of the Cedar Nation, embarks on a pilgrimage to the southern area of the United States with a varied group of people that takes his band across the broken land of the United States. The United States, having finally run out of fossil fuels, begins to collect and hoard all of the available wood in the country to use as fuel. The government of the United States forces Proude to leave his reservation because of the abundance of trees and wood the reservation contains.
Crows are encountered many times in this novel, and Proude personifies the cunning nature of those animals and is seen as a trickster character, despite the less than optimistic setting. There is also an element of magical realism that permeates the novel, which adds to the science fiction qualities of the book. This novel has many elements of postmodernism thinking and the text reads as stream of consciousness. This book can be confusing to some if complete attention is not given to it.
Make no mistake, this book gets graphic. One of Proude’s traveling companions has sex with dogs when she’s not having arguments, while another companion who happens to be a clown, has a large penis and often refers to it as “presidential”. Death is also a common occurrence in this novel. Cannibalism, dismemberment, and immolation are just a few of the deaths encountered. But the graphic nature of the book makes a statement. When the world begins to fall apart, humanity and sanity are the first things to die. If you enjoy Science Fiction, American Indian writers and stories, Postmodern ideas, or a combination of those, then Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles will no disappoint.
This book is a stream-of-consciousness novel, somewhat similar to “Almanac of the Dead” in style. There are many scenes that really are likely to make many readers wince. But, that said, I really laughed at many of the characters and situations depicted, particularly as the white people (who have managed to wreck their “part” of America) keep trying to steal onto the Native reservations. Yes, this could very well be the truth in a few years when we’ve turned the rest of the continent into a large open-pit-garbage-dump which we currently seem bent on.
The bottom line: highly recommended but likely to cause laughter that, if you are of European descent, will slowly fade to dismay as the true impact of history sinks in…