Review of ‘Five Little Indians’ by Michelle Good.

Continuing my book reviews for writers with a critique of ‘Five Little Indians’ by Michelle Good. I compare it to ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte. They are both stories of people treated poorly, either by fate or by the government. Meanness and cruelty. People persevere. In ‘Five Little Indians’, some make it through the horror with scars, but are able to carry on. Others cannot, and self destruct. And some nearly self destruct but avert disaster.
Good doesn’t sugarcoat the abuse, but much like the book in the same vein, ‘Indian Horse’ by Richard Wagamese, the real horrors are only alluded to.
My knock on ‘Five Little Indians’ is the same as against ‘Jane Eyre’. There is a literary device called ‘Deus ex machina’, used by the Greek playwrights two thousand years ago, which translates to ‘God in the machine’, where unsolvable problems are resolved by some outside event that is improbable at best. Jane Eyre inherits a fortune from a long-lost uncle, Lucy inherits a life insurance policy. Happy endings all around.
The book revolves around five characters who are all scarred by the residential schools. That one goes to prison for beating the priest doesn’t surprise me. I am amazed that doesn’t happen more and am reminded of the movie with Robert De Niro ‘Sleepers’ where abused boys murder their abuser. I found some of the character frustrating and didn’t quite understand the motivations of Clara to smuggle guns. Again, she nearly self destructs.
This book by Michelle Good is a hard read at times. We live in a time where White Privilege is being replaced by Collective guilt at the wrongs by previous governments. With such potent emotions conjured up, it is hard to see solutions. But understanding the history, the past wrongs, and the affects on people, survivors, is an important first step. That this education can happen through literature such as ‘Five Little Indians’, “Indian Horse’, or other stories is a good way to advance the discussion.

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June 9, 2023

Book review of Joan Didion’s ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’

I was reading another book, ‘The Daily Stoic’ by Ryan Holiday and he referenced a quote from Joan Didion’s ‘On Self-Respect’. I wanted to read the entire essay, so I downloaded the e-book of ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’. The first two essays I read from the collection were ‘On Self-Respect’ and ‘On Keeping a Notebook’. The prose is so good I was amazed and demoralized. How could anyone write this well and how could a novice writer ever hope to match this? I closed the collection and spent a few days in a funk. Maybe I should give up this writing dream.
How is it some writers inspire us to write, and some so set us back? For me, reading Tolstoy or DH Lawrence makes me want to open up Scrivener and start pouring out words. I can go for hours after just reading a chapter of either. Or most novelists, for that matter. But Virginia Woolf, whose work I admire, can take the wind out of my sails, although I don’t aspire to write stream of consciousness. James Allen’s ‘As A Man Thinketh’ inspires, as does Dorothea Brande. George Eliot, who’s ‘Middlemarch’ is one of the five best novels ever, leaves me feeling inadequate. John Gardner makes me feel like a failing student, as does Sol Stein. But William Zinsser, Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard and Anne Tyler all make me feel it is possible. Not easy, but possible.
A few days later, I picked up the Didion essays again, and realized I had started with the two best works. Slouching Towards Bethlehem left me a little cold. Didion takes a journalist’s eye to 1967 Haight-Ashbury San Francisco. The moral corruption was noted. The rape was matter of fact. A five-year-old given LSD. It was good to see it end, both the essay and Haight-Ashbury.
I enjoyed some of the essays about the California central valley, a part of the state away from the glitz of San Francisco or LA. But some of the name dropping left me wondering who she was talking about, and I was too tired to Google them.
Didion was one of the greats. But human, and fallible. That I know I can emulate.

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June 4, 2023

Book review of Joan Didion’s ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’