By Kathleen Eagle, 1995, Contemporary Romance
Avon, $5.50, ISBN #0-380-77633-2
A recent post about Kathleen Eagle's books made me stop and think. Why do I love her writing so much? This book is one of the reasons why. Beautiful writing is a given for Kathleen Eagle. She could write stereo instructions and I'd buy them - in hardback. Scenes are never overwritten and no strings are left dangling. But the best thing is the believability of her characters and their actions. When you read one of her books, you know this is how the story is supposed to happen.
Clara Pipestone is a white middle-class woman. She meets her husband, Ben, while she is interviewing his father, Dewey, a wicasa wakan - a holy man of the Lakota Sioux. Dewey's stories keep Clara coming back to the reservation and within months she has fallen hard for Ben's cowboy Indian charm. He's wild and different, not what she is used to and she takes the boldest step of her sheltered life when she falls in love with him. Clara starts out as a challenge for Ben but she winds up being the one woman he can't get out of his system. Despite their different backgrounds, they marry. Ben settles down and they have a beautiful daughter, Anna. For twelve years life looks like the American dream. Until Ben's drinking and a short loveless affair tears it all apart.
Two years into their separation, Clara and Ben are miserable and Anna is getting into trouble at school and with the law. Although she is reluctant to admit that she can't handle Anna's behavior, Clara calls her estranged husband and the two agree to join their daughter in the one thing Anna wants to do - ride with her parents and grandfather in a 232 mile journey that follows the path taken by their Lakota ancestors. The path leads to the site of the massacre at Wounded Knee.
The Big Foot Memorial Ride isn't just a cross-country pleasure trip. It's a 2-week slog through whatever weather God decides to throw at the Dakotas in December. It tests the rider's spiritual, physical and mental endurance. "My butt's frozen to the saddle and I haven't felt my toes in a week. Now do I have the strength and the will to keep going? To remember the horrific journey of a century ago and to honor those who made it?" Each day of the Ride has a different dedication - to the women, the children, the sick, the imprisoned, those who came before and to the future generations. As the Lakota say, "Mitakuye oyasin" - All my relatives.
Along the way all the characters are tested and come to sometimes painful self-realization. Clara is a perfectionist who takes pride in always being in control and having the right answers. Clara feels if she can only keep all her ducks in a row, she can prevent anything bad from happening in her world. The problem is, this doesn't work. She can't stop her husband from drinking or her daughter from making bad choices. Clara knows that she still loves Ben, but his brief infidelity shattered her and she needs a reason to believe she can trust him again. She hates the mistakes she sees her daughter making but she's a tigress when it comes to protecting Anna from the subtle prejudice caused by Anna's Indian heritage. Can Clara accept imperfection in herself and others?
Ben's actions in the past had cost him everything he values - his wife, his marriage, his daughter, his spirituality. But Ben is also a man who sometimes doubts he was ever worthy to have them at all. Ben has spent the two year separation confronting his drinking problem. Can he use this golden frozen opportunity to convince his wife and daughter that he's committed to them and a life together and that they have a reason to believe in him once more?
Anna is angry with her father for his drinking and is angry with her mother for her refusal to go to counseling. She is also frustrated that she doesn't know everything behind her parents' separation. What Anna does know is that despite their problems, her parents still love each other and her. Can she get them to build on this and find a reason to believe in their bond as a family? Anna also receives support from her grandfather Dewey. Dewey is a spiritual man - a man of age old wisdom. What he is not is a pompous stuffed shirt, as his razor sharp wit proves. Dewey relies on the Lakota way of gentle correction and pointing out choices to try to help his troubled family, but don't try to feed him any bull, animal or otherwise.
Kathleen Eagle's understanding and knowledge of modern and traditional Lakota life shines in the characters and details of the other riders and support crew. She tells us about them in the best way - by showing rather than giving a lecture. I feel I know these people and their lives, hopes, dreams and pride in who and what they are.
All the characters go on the Ride looking for something in themselves and each other - sobriety, fidelity, trust, self-respect, and forgiveness. These are all reasons to believe and their triumphant arrival at the Wounded Knee Memorial and simultanously at a knowledge of themselves will have you cheering and trilling in the traditional Lakota way.
One of the hallmarks of a Kathleen Eagle book is her willingness to write about tough subjects. Reason to Believe tackles some of the biggest: alcoholism, adultery, and the loss of spiritual faith. It's packed with powerful emotions and beautiful moments. It makes me weep and it makes me laugh. It makes me glad I can experience the Memorial Ride without getting saddle sores and frostbite. But most of all, it makes me glad to have been able to spend time with Ben, Clara, Anna, Dewey and the other riders and people of Little Eagle, SD.
-- Patricia S.
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