On a Sioux reservation in North Dakota potent forces converge today, as
they have for centuries. Ancestral ghosts make their presence known among the living.
Dreams inspire journeys, both literal and physical. The dying are summoned to a council
fire "five steps beyond the edge of the universe." And, through it all, good medicine and
bad magic nudge the intricate twists of fate.
Such is the setting for Susan Power's debut novel, The Grass Dancer, itself
a remarkable journey through many times and many realms. Power, an enrolled member
of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, has created a spellbinding collection of interwoven
tales that not only illuminate the hearts, minds, and spirits of an unforgettable cast of
characters but also offer startling insights into the use and abuse of power.
In the first contemporary scene of The Grass Dancer a young man's life is
struck by tragedy for the second time. Harley Wind Soldier, whose father and older
brother were killed in a car accident four weeks before his birth, meets Pumpkin, an
unusual and irresistible young woman, at an inter-tribal powwow. After astonishing the
crowd with her command of the ritual "grass dance," Pumpkin spends the night with
Harley, and both discover she is the one who can light the empty corners of his soul. But
the next day, Pumpkin is killed in a car crash. An accident perhaps, or the work of
Mercury Thunder - the reservation witch whose granddaughter, Charlene, has also set her
sights on Harley.
As the novel unfolds, we learn more of the complex, intertwined histories that
ultimately brought this scenario into being. We learn of Harley's family secret and of the
true reason his mother, Lydia, relinquished her power of speech when she was widowed.
We learn of Charlene's bondage to--and ultimate liberation from--a grandmother who
everyone on the reservation rightfully fears. And we learn what awful circumstance could
bring a woman such as Mercury Thunder to manipulate her tremendous gift of power for
Along the way we encounter many others whose individual stories are threads in this
larger tapestry. Jeannette McVay is a teacher at the Indian school who came to study
Indian "superstition" and finds herself inextricably bound to the reservation as if by a
preternatural tie. Red Dress and Ghost Horse are two formidable spirits whose influence
extends across boundaries of death. Harley's grandmother, Margaret Many Wounds, stops
on her way to the ancestral council fire to frolic on the moon with the Apollo astronauts.
The Grass Dancer is a cornucopia of legends and legacies, secrets and
surprises. As one layer of its tale is peeled away, another is revealed, until we are left
with a core of understanding of the hopes, dreams, values, and attitudes that inform
people and a culture across the generations. Power is a storyteller whose narratives are so
vivid that readers are, time and again, shocked when they realize what they have been told
is a fictional tale.