Review by New York Times Review
THE POETICS OF DAMAGE permeates David Treuer's elegantly bitter fourth novel, "Prudence," which unites a distinctly modern sociopolitical perspective with a more old-fashioned moral rigor about the consequences of emotional cowardice, complicity and repression. On the evidence here, Treuer believes in bravery. Moreover, he believes that a lack of bravery isn't just sad, it's deeply destructive - and the destruction can't be undone. Cowardice can kill people. While there's much hope in this lyrical novel, as evidenced by the freedom with which it examines some of the more transgressive interstices of race, sexual orientation and gender, there's also an obdurate insistence on taking responsibility, particularly if one is a man. Treuer's perspective is bracingly tough. This author values honor. Who dares to take that kind of stance anymore? The principal terrain of Treuer's drama is a resort in the north woods of Minnesota, a lakeside clutch of cabins called the Pines, where certain events will mark the inner lives of its inhabitants, mostly during World War II and the decade that follows. The rustic camp is owned by a white family, the Washburns. Emma, the matriarch, is anxious and persnickety; her husband, Jonathan, is often grumpy; their son, Frankie, is handsome, smart and sensitive. Also at the Pines are two Native Americans: Felix, the caretaker, and Billy, who is Frankie's friend, childhood playmate and, eventually, secret lover. On a pivotal summer day when Frankie is home on a visit from Princeton, there is an accident with a gun and a Native American girl dies. The person responsible avoids owning up to it, and the burden of guilt is borne by another. The dead girl's teenage sister, the Prudence of the title, grows into a troubled, lost woman hopelessly in love with Frankie, who is in turn bound to her by a mix of admiration, bad faith and promises he isn't sure he can fulfill. It's a bad business, for which all the characters will pay a price. Treuer is particularly skilled at showing how a substantial lie in one area of a life can manifest as a distortion in another, apparently unrelated area - emotional numbness, self-destruction, cruelty, alcoholism. Without judgment, but also without blinking, he expertly vivisects characters who can't own up to the truth about themselves, showing how the unaddressed damage only deepens over time. Again and again, characters loop back to burnished memories of one another, recalling moments of ecstasy and demonstrations of heroism and grace (particularly masculine grace), but these loops always come to us tarnished by our awareness of what happened next. Promise is blighted by limitation; eros, when confined, begins to rot; shame poisons the emotional aquifer. The novel roams from the consciousness of one character to the next, touching down at pivotal moments, like a scrapbook of bad choices or the ruminations of some unseen character troubled by this spectacle of loss. Frankie, regarding his parents, sees that their fear and repression have "reduced the present and the future not to ash but to fog. A slow-creeping, heavy fog of sadness that hung over his childhood." Later he will only intermittently discern the wages of his own fear and repression. Felix is the sole character who remains true to his nature and thus causes no harm to others, but even he endures loss caused by dishonor. Very little can grow in this salted earth. With a writer as morally aware and questioning as Treuer, it seems fair to point out that "Prudence" goes a bit off true, as it were, when it comes to its female characters, who tend to be unbearable, dead or slowly dying. I sometimes felt as if I was reading the novelistic embodiment of Leslie Fiedler's essay "Come Back to the Raft Ag'in, Huck Honey!" in which he argues that much classic American literature revolves around the homoerotic bond between a white boy and an African-American or Native American boy who set off for adventures far away from confining women. Certain ideas don't surface here: that said women might be confined by the same culture, and/or that the boys' perception of those women might be influenced by their taboo desire, and/or (following Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick) that the boys - later men - and a woman might form a triangle in which the woman is both the medium and the beard for male-to-male desire. In a novel as thoughtful as this one, I wondered at the numerous passages characterizing Emma as an uptight, repressive shrew and Prudence as a ruined whore. The writing, so sure and glowing when it concerns the men, wobbles near the women. It's just a tincture, not anything that overwhelms the novel's many strengths, but I found myself wondering if honor, in this world, was conceived as a generally masculine strength, a manifestation of male responsibility and power. The men in the novel are held accountable for their own actions, for better or worse. The women, acted upon, aren't the agents of their own destinies, the keepers of their own secrets. In life, of course, this is hardly the case. In the end, though, I engage in this questioning from a foundation of admiration, from a sense that a writer with as strong a moral imagination as Treuer's is more than equipped to field it. "Prudence" hurts, and that hurt lingers. Very few novels take this much of a risk. STACEY D'ERASMO'S most recent novel is "Wonderland."
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [April 12, 2015]
Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* As a boy, Frankie was happiest at the Pines, the old Minnesota resort his Chicago parents acquired and spruced up, dreaming of summer idylls. Felix, the Native American groundskeeper, was a far more benevolent influence on young Frankie than his hostile, selfish father, who never disguised his disappointment in his delicate, thoughtful son. With WWII under way, Princeton student Frankie joins the air force and returns to the Pines before going overseas, anxious to see his secret love, Billy, a half-breed. But a camp for German POWs has been hastily erected across the river, a prisoner escapes, and, desperate to assert his manliness, Frankie finds himself at the center of a tragedy involving a young, dispossessed, and rebellious Native American woman named, or rather, misnamed, Prudence. Finding solace in military orderliness, Frankie thinks, If only life had a similar clarity. Clearness and precision are what Ojibwa writer Treuer (The Translation of Dr Apelles, 2006) so evocatively attains in this magnetizing and richly original novel. As he cycles in and out of his extraordinarily affecting characters' lives of deprivation and stoicism, he elucidates stygian emotions and annihilating psychological traumas incited by brutal, even genocidal conflicts over sexuality, race, and religion. Treuer's trenchant and compassionate novel glimmers with nature's potent beauty, fresh historical detail, and scrupulous insight.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2015 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
After 2012's much-lauded examination of Native American life on the reservation (Rez Life), Ojibwe writer Treuer turns once again to fiction in his achingly moving fourth novel. Here, he uses flashbacks and myriad points of view to relay both the lead-up to and the aftermath of a shocking event that occurs one muggy summer night in 1942. In the search to hunt down an escaped German prisoner from a WWII POW camp, a nine-year-old Indian girl is mistakenly shot and killed in the woods abutting the Pines, the rural Minnesota summer estate belonging to the Washburns. Though her older sister Prudence emerges unscathed, the accident alters the fates of everyone involved, including vulnerable Frankie Washburn, who pulled the trigger; Billy, the Indian boy who's secretly captured Frankie's heart and who takes the blame for the shooting; Felix, the stoic Indian widower who works on the Washburns' property and takes Prudence in after her sister's burial; and mouthy Prudence, who drinks and fornicates her way through the pain. Treuer adds depth to each of the characters' stories by revealing tidbits of backstory, but it's the saga of Frankie and Billy's thwarted love and the consequences of their actions that feels the most devastating and resonant, haunting both men as they're shipped off to war. Perhaps most fitting is the book's title-which speaks volumes about each character's integrity, culpability, and resilience in the face of a collective tragedy. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Set in northern Minnesota mostly during and right after World War II, this thoughtful and engaging novel by Treuer (The Translation of Dr. Apelles) reveals the different worlds inhabited by whites and Native Americans in the area. Dr. Washburn and his wife own a small resort on the edge of a lake, where a Native American veteran of World War I named Felix works year-round as handyman. The Washburns' son, Frankie, is about to go off to war himself and is meeting his parents and friends on the lake for a farewell celebration. When a German POW escapes from a nearby camp, Frankie and some friends join in on the search, firing upon a noise in the brush and tragically killing one of two fugitive Native American girls hiding there. The novel then follows the fates of Frankie, as he flies bombers over Europe, and Prudence, the survivor of the shooting incident, who is adopted by Felix; after the war, a stranger arrives in town and brings more tragedy in his wake. VERDICT In a well-told tale with realistically portrayed characters and locations, the author sustains a voice that is low-key but forceful, managing narrative and theme, action and thought in ways that elevate this story to a powerful level. [See Prepub Alert, 8/22/14.]-James Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Novelist/memoirist Treuer (Rez Life, 2012, etc.) returns to the northern woodlands with this understated study of cultures in conflict.On the surface a murder mystery, Treuer's latest captures rural Minnesota life in a time of transformation. World War II has erupted, sweeping up a generation of young men to go fight; one of them is Frankie Washburn, a child of relative privilege, who is sent off to battle in the skies over Europe. The book begins, however, with a brief prologue set a decade later; there's the arrival of a mysterious Jew"and no one had seen a Jew on the reservation before"and the apparently simultaneous death of the title character, a Native American woman whose life is so hard that death must have come as a release. The framing device of that nameless Jew seems odd, since his presence is largely unexplained, but it adds to the sense of impenetrable mystery that surrounds subsequent events. More than one death figures in them, including the sad and memorable dispatch of a "brush wolf," as does the tumult surrounding the escape of a German submariner from a prison camp nearby. Treuer nicely complicates his storyline by shifting points of view among the principal characters, turning in a kind of Spoon River Anthology of stepping beyond the norms: Here is the love that dare not speak its name and that will kill to hold its silence, there, guilt over killings committed in the name of nations, there the discovery that a presumably guilty man is innocentalmost, anywayand the roiling, always, of conflicts of generation, class and ethnicity: "Nothing else came to him and he thought, for a moment, how stupid it must sound to the white people behind him." A self-assured, absorbing story with a grim arc that moves from bad to worse as Treuer explores the darkness at our cores. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.