Tuesday, July 30, 2013

#12: Laughing Boy

No wonder people loved Shirley Temple movies so much. Clearly the best literature of the 1930s was just straight up bleak. I am so ready to read a story about something happy happening to anyone. Even a happy dog would be great at this point. But alas, following in the tradition of really depressing Depression Era books, Laughing Boy steps up to the plate to send us one step closer to just saying "screw life. what's the point!?" This time, our sad and soon to be miserable character is a young man of the Navajo nation who is just starting out his life as a grown man.

My own personal prejudice makes me leery of books that are written about one culture by a person of another culture. That bias made me very unmotivated to read Laughing Boy and it took me an embarrassingly long time to get through the first 30 pages. However, once I did, I realized I was being a moron and this was a good read.

The author spent time living amongst various groups of Navajo people and has attempted to use that experience to write some beautifully conflicted characters. You won't find many caricatures in this novel, thank goodness. Each man and woman has their own back story, their own mysteries, their own demons, their own motivations, their own struggles, their own flaws, and their own charm. And their world... Their lost and gone forever world. The saddest thing about this story (beyond the very entertaining but flat out devastating plot) is that you are reading about the day to day lives of a people whose world is being chipped away piece by piece. This book won't beat you over the head with that reality, but instead it just haunts the entire novel.

The real triumph of this book is watching the mystery of Slim Girl's reality unfold. On the surface she is presented as an odd duck amongst the book's characters and looked upon with a great deal of suspicion. Soon we begin to suspect that something is "really wrong" with her, but never in a million years did I imagine author Oliver La Farge would dare to make her so incredibly flawed. The more I read about this poor child, the more I thought about the Hays Code days of American film and I realize that there was no way Slim Girl was going to make it to the end of this book alive. Do we always have to kill or convert unchaste women? Why was that a rule? Can't an older story ever end like "And she stayed single and kept sleeping around happily ever after." Where is that classic novel? That sounds way less depressing than this painful and gut wrenching tale of two lovers who never stood a chance.

Under all of that is a very interesting story about maturity, family, and marriage that challenges the notion of "soul mates" and "true love." Laughing Boy and Slim Girl do not have a fairy tale romance. Admittedly, there is very little romance at all. Their relationship is one that was intentionally constructed by them and was built on necessity, the assumption of trust, and a mutual desire for independence from whatever it is that they are leaving behind. Maybe that is why they are being punished? For leaving their families behind? Slim Girl, having been snatched away to an Indian School as a girl, never made a choice to leave her family but I suppose mens rea doesn't really applies to fate. Sometimes your life will end up badly simply because you were born in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's just reality.

1 comment:

Maria said...

I too am ready for a happy book. I think we will be waiting a while...

Good post. We felt differently about this book. I think I enjoyed The Good Earth more than you did, so it evens out! ;)