Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lisa Jones' "Broken"

Lisa Jones has written about cowgirls during calving season, the regional Miss Navajo Pageant, native bees, geese as companions, the state of land-grant universities in the West, dating biologists and global warming.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to Broken: A Love Story, her first book, and reported the following:
Page 99 starts in the mountains high in Wyoming's Wind River Range. Moses Stark -- an itinerant cowboy with a mystical streak and a face that had been half-melted in a truck fire several years before -- had just completed three weeks of "fasting and praying and starving." He ran into a Northern Arapaho medicine man named Three Bears, who was cutting firewood for a sweat lodge that evening.

Moses's blond hair scattered over his shoulders as he walked towards Three Bears.

“Maybe that's Custer's ghost,” the medicine man thought.

Meanwhile, Moses was thinking that Three Bears was the toughest man he’d ever seen. ”I’d only been afraid two times in my life that another man could kick my ass,” he told me later. “One was my dad, the other was this guy... There was no doubt in my mind. He could kick my ass.”

Despite their imaginings, the men greeted each other calmly, loaded the firewood into the truck, and drove down to the flats of the reservation. Three Bears took Moses to the sweat lodge of his nephew Stanford Addison, a quadriplegic horse gentler and traditional healer who is the main character in Broken: A Love Story. Moses took to life on the Wind River Indian Reservation and became a part of the Addison family. He had been a violent man, but life around the Stanford and the rest of the Addisons eventually gentled him into a modern-day supplicant. Moses and I came from completely different backgrounds, and he stayed on the reservation much longer than I did, but in some ways his experience there foreshadowed my own.

For both of us, there were plenty of hard knocks. Moses told me about some of his years after they happened, during one of my first visits to Stanford’s house: A few years after his arrival, Moses and Stanford, both alpha males in their thirties, needed to spend some time apart. Moses found a house about five miles away, right outside the village of Ethete.

From page 99:

The house was spacious, with twenty acres of pasture for his Arab stallion, Sinbad, and a couple of mares. The Episcopal Church owned it, and they said he could live in it for free if he did some renovations. Moses was happy with the arrangement. At first he cowboyed for a living, then he worked at the tribal detox center. He figured he could save some money and fix the house in his free time.

But he soon discovered there was someone else in the house: a rather high-maintenance ghost. It came to him as a voice. At first Moses was congenial and practical. “You take the back of the house,” he told the spirit. “I’ll take the front.”

The spirit wasn’t interested; it wanted to talk. It made Moses feel good at first. He was doing research for a book on a subject that fascinated him -- the Indo-European horsemen of the steppes. But soon enough the spirit turned into a book critic, and Moses found it difficult to distinguish the spirit’s messages from his own self-critical thoughts. The spirit made Moses feel hopeless, worthless, better off dead.

Welcome to writing, I wanted to joke, to dispel my own discomfort with the fact that Moses actually believed what he was saying about the spirit. I couldn’t join him in this belief, but Moses was a born storyteller. His story, so unwillingly initiated, sprang out as polished and whole as if telling stories was all he did.
Read an excerpt from Broken: A Love Story, and learn more about the book and author at Lisa Jones' website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue