Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, November 28, 2009

"The Shape Shifter" by Tony Hillerman

My mom has been after me to read a book by Tony Hillerman (she even gave me one for Christmas last year and I haven't managed to read it yet) but I've not been impressed with her other book recommendations in the past, so it has taken me a while.

I found this book kind of dry and hard to get into. The writing was too much like Rhino Ranch, although perhaps not quite as awful. I think Hillerman probably tried harder than McMurtry, and may have even had an editor glance at his final draft. At least this one did get more interesting as it went on. By page 200 I was both curious as to the way it would end, and wondering how exactly Hillerman planned to fill 70 more pages.

Unfortunately, this book didn't have any twists and turns, which could have made the ride much more fun. The story was like a long, straight, and lonely highway across the country we see described through Vang's eyes: "The dusty wind, the desiccated landscape of high country desert with winter coming on... dead rock, cliffs with snow on them. And the sand."

Without any surprises, it was disappointingly obvious that Delos was also Shewnack and Totter; what made it even worse was that I found this fact hard to swallow, maybe because I pictured Delos as George Clooney, suave and clean-cut and handsome, and Shewnack as Brad Pitt in Kalifornia--a dirty, grimy criminal who could kill in cold blood while robbing a service station, but who could also be described as the prettiest man ever--and there's no way to reconcile two such characters in my mind.

I was really hoping for a big shock at the end to make up for the lack of such in the rest of the book, but alas, it was not to be. At least Hillerman didn't pull that old B-movie trick and have Delos start up out of his puddle of blood and snatch someone's ankle at the end, but I was almost afraid he was going to try it (and fail, of course).

I did find one very important and thought-provoking tidbit in this book--an idea that had never even crossed my mind before. Lieutenant Leaphorn makes the point that "the assimilation program had cost much of this generation the heart and soul of the Navajo system of values." Robbed of the chance to learn from their own elders and instead placed in mainstream public school classrooms, it was much easier for the Native Americans of that generation to fall into vices like alcoholism.

Eventually I will get around to reading the Hillerman book I got for Christmas last year (Finding Moon), but reading The Shape Shifter did not encourage me to move that one any closer to the top of my stack.

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