Book Review: “Winter in the Blood” by James Welch

515zmsfedblI hated this book the first time I read it. It was slow and bleak and nothing about it really hooked me like it should have. However, a midterm I was about to take was going to have Winter in the Blood on it, and I forced myself to re-read for the sake of a good read. I’m so glad I did because my opinion completely reversed upon that second attempt.

Winter in the Blood is about a genuinely unlikable (and unnamed) protagonist living on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana. He’s highly self-destructive tendencies mostly stem from witnessing the death of his brother, which he blames himself for. It’s hard to say what the plot is, and it’s not even a redemptive arc because he only starts on that path in the last moments of the novel. I guess it’s a character study and a meditation on reservation life . . . ? I realize this sounds really stale and not appealing at all, and I’m sure my professor Billy would be annoyed if he read this. But I promise, James Welch infuses just enough dark humor and poignancy in the book that it makes for a thought-provoking and genuinely enjoyable read. Another reason I love this book is because it makes you care about a really unlikable guy. While he’s violent and disrespectful, he is also clearly living with an enormous amount of agony and guilt. When I read about how he kept his brothers things around and visited the spot where his father died, it became clear that he was deliberately haunting himself about his past. I couldn’t help but empathize with him, and I found myself rooting for him.

This book was my first foray into Native American literature and I would argue that it’s required reading for those interested in the canon.

Rating: 9/10

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