I love this book and even I don’t know how to get started on this post about it. Ledfeather is, at face value, everything I hate about postmodernism: non-linear storylines, unreliable POVs, fragments EVERYWHERE, etc. And yet, I look back a year after having read and I am still convinced that it was one of the greatest books I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.
My theory, and I wrote about this in my final paper for Native American Lit, was that Jones created a narrative that allowed him to explore the revisionist tendencies of American culture. One of the two central characters has his entire narrative written through letters to his wife while he works as an Indian agent on a Blackfoot reservation. Francis Dalimpere, as he’s called, regularly lies in the letters, usually in order to make himself look better. In reality, Dalimpere had been responsible for a period of starvation within the tribe by denying them their food rations. You might be thinking, gosh that’s horrible but it can’t be thaaat bad, can it?
Oh man. It can. And that’s why it’s such an important book to read.
The descriptions of Dalimpere’s hauntings by the dead tribe members are stomach churning for the reader, with the illustrations deftly showing the abject misery and corruption that plagues reservations. Jones creates a world that is literally defined by the death that surrounds it, and that in itself is a very powerful metaphor for how the entire American landscape is haunted by our history of genocide. And Jones doesn’t ever give you any breaks in his descriptions, so you’re literally immersed in this world the whole time you’re reading the book. I realized that even when I’d finished the book, I would never forget the starved corpses and skeleton-like faces that I had witnessed alongside Dalimpere’s character, something which is a true testament to Jones’ skill as a writer.
Ledfeather has yet to let me go, or let me forget what I read, but I’m honestly thankful for that. I don’t think it’s possible to witness such a moment in our history (and you can bet it’s based on true events) and truly ever come to terms with it. I don’t want to be okay with what I saw. It makes me angry. It makes me sad. It makes me want to fight. And for the past year, I’ve made it a point to promote Native American rights wherever and whenever I can. Ledfeather is important to me because it pushed me to the point where I knew too much to stay silent any longer.
This book was one of the most beautiful examples of how literature can be mesmerizing and rhetorically enchanting and still propel you towards action. And as a bonus, Ledfeather has one of the most stunning ending scenes I’ve ever encountered, one which gave me hope for the characters even after so many pages of trauma and grief. I can’t emphasize enough how highly I think of this book and how much people need to read it. It exemplifies everything that makes literature the inherently powerful medium that it is.