Adult Reading Level

FIRESTICKS: A COLLECTION OF STORIES by Diane Glancey. University of Oklahoma Press, 1005 Asp Avenue, Norman, OK 73019. 142 pp., $19.95 cloth. 0-8061-2490-3

Volume five in the American Indian Literature and Cultural Studies series, this small book is big on drama. Woven into various narrative styles are stories of the difficulties of being a mixed-blood - an outcast from both cultures searching for an identity, dreams of traveling easily as the U.S. mail, training a cat not to scratch the furniture, and the title story of Turle and Navaron, seeking comfort with words that are "firesticks finding their way through the dark." A bittersweet account, grounded in reality. Highly recommended. Reviewed by Steve Brock.

A Second Look:

Calling into question the Western literary tradition of segregating genre in separate volumes, this "collection of stories" also includes poems, nonfiction essays, and a novella, woven through the other pieces, a section at a time, lending unity to the whole. Unsettling traditional categories of literary realism in language, theme and structure, the pieces themselves defy easy labeling, each one utilizing the languages of poetry, drama, fiction and nonfiction. And in transcending traditional Western categories of form,

Glancy, who describes herself as having "as much white blood as red," creates new literary forms, employing the aesthetics of both Native American and Western literary traditions. The resulting originality of form and Glancy's lyrical language illuminate self-creating characters whose stories evoke a sense of mystery within their hard daily realities.

Not always predictable, polite or even "sane," Glancy's characters search for identity in an indifferent society. In "Chelly Rep," an aging woman's fever dreams bring visions of the murder of her Cherokee people by the U.S. Army:

"`I see things, Carl,' I say. `Soldiers crawling over our land. The ghosts of an old war-camp. We've sold off our corners and are turning over our fields. Others will lead us."

Frustrated by her husband's apathy, and by the local church's refusal to allow her to tell the Sunday School pupils the stories of her people, she loses herself in drawing and mask-making, finally creating her own church with her barnyard animals. From the fragments of her culture, her dreams and her self, she creates her own form of salvation:

"The children bray to one another in Cherokee. I dance with them in the churchyard by the blue shed. They wear the masks I make. The Cherokee sisters whisper our words. Birds handwrite them in the river birches, lighting the church with the barn-lantern of their language."

"Stamp Dance" reveals the unsentimental truths of a young boy's life through his longing for a stamp collection. For Mack, the post office is where his mother gets food stamps, and where the images on stamps remind him that Indians now exist only as cultural artifacts: "There were famous men, even Indians. Or their war bonnets, at least."

Mack's wish for a sheet of new stamps is synonymous with his wish to escape, to help "send away" his best friend's abusive father, and to bring back his own father: "But Mack's father made it back from Viet Nam. When Uncle Al called him `missing in action,' it was the war in the city he meant. In whatever there was that called men away from their families and out into the streets never to come back again." Mack wants to recover all he and his family have lost, but he must settle for a single war-bonnet stamp and his dreams of flying stamps, "wings of white, creamy birds."

In the Native American voices of Firesticks, we can hear a past that is simultaneous with the present. Speaking from the courage necessary to live outside of the myths of middle/upper class white society, these splintered, confused psyches face an uncertain future from a dark past. Ultimately, however, the myriad voices offer insight and hope, for Glancy's characters are sustained from within by these "sticks" which make a warming fire:

"I see our words are firesticks finding a way through the dark. Strange warriors. In dreams, I hear your talk."

Reviewed by Marianna Wright

(NOTE: This review first appeared in the June, 1994 issue of the triquarterly newsletter of The Writers' Place, Madison, Wisconsin's non-profit writers' organization. Reprinted here with permission.)

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Native American BOOKS, text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1996

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 03, 1996 - 6:00:30 AM