Published August 2016 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: my copy through the library for book club
Ten years after the Seventh Cavalry massacred more than two hundred Lakota men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, J.B. Bennett, a white rancher, and Star, a young Native American woman, are murdered in a remote meadow on J.B.’s land. The deaths bring together the scattered members of the Bennett family: J.B.’s cunning and hard father, Drum; his estranged wife, Dulcinea; and his teenage sons, Cullen and Hayward. As the mystery of these twin deaths unfolds, the history of the dysfunctional Bennetts and their damning secrets is revealed, exposing the conflicted heart of a nation caught between past and future.
At the center of The Bones of Paradise are two remarkable women. Dulcinea, returned after bitter years of self-exile, yearns for redemption and the courage to mend her broken family and reclaim the land that is rightfully hers. Rose, scarred by the terrible slaughters that have decimated and dislocated her people, struggles to accept the death of her sister, Star, and refuses to rest until she is avenged.
A kaleidoscopic portrait of misfits, schemers, chancers, and dreamers, Jonis Agee’s bold novel is a panorama of America at the dawn of a new century. A beautiful evocation of this magnificent, blood-soaked land—its sweeping prairies, seas of golden grass, and sandy hills, all at the mercy of two unpredictable and terrifying forces, weather and lawlessness—and the durable men and women who dared to tame it.
When The Bones of Paradise was picked to be this year's Omaha Reads selection, one of my book club friends quickly suggested our book club read it and even grabbed one of the library's book club bags with books for us. It included an audiobook copy which I took with us on a recent trip. We got through one disc (which was no reflection on the book; just new terrain that involved more concentration for driving and navigating); my husband was already saying the book was "brutal." I wouldn't have thought that would scare him off but it did; he never asked to read or listen to it again. It did not, however, scare of the ladies of my book club. Not sure if that says more about my husband or my book club friends!
My husband was right; this book is often brutal. But life in the Sandhills of Nebraska in 1900 was brutal, from the weather to the people who inhabited it, and Agee's writing reflects all of the ways that life could be tough in 1900 western Nebraska, from ice storms to tornadoes to the American government to the men (and women) who lived there.
|THIS is what the Lakota were|
doing that so alarmed the Indian
agent who called in the military
As the story moves back and forth in time, in part to tell the background stories of many of the characters. But Agee says the real reason she told the story from multiple points of view was to "respect the events and Native Americans at Wounded Knee by making them as alive and as vivid as possible...I dramatized key events with my characters involved so that the impact of the massacre could be registered as horrific as it was." There are several characters who "were there" at Wounded Knee. (Drum, J. B., Ry, and Star). It's this day that is at the center of the book, pulling the story of what happened to the Indians in that area into the story of the Bennett family and the people surrounding them.
|And THIS is what was done to the Lakota at Wounded Knee|
About those murders...there is a murder mystery element to this book, after all...some in my book club figured out early on who killed J. B. and Star. Others were holding on to their own theories until the end. Either way, the slow reveal of what happened in that meadow was satisfying. The ending of the book, though, left some (including my mom) not as satisfied. My mom said she felt like Agee had gotten to the end of the book and didn't know how to finish it so rushed into the ending that we have here. Agee, herself, says she didn't know who killed J. B. and Star when she began writing the book but that she did rewrite the ending many times. One of our book club members said, "how would you have finished the book?" I'm not sure, to be honest. I just don't think it would have ended the way Agee ended it.
Still, it's a fascinating, complex novel, filled with interesting characters and dynamics, one in which the setting plays a very important role. Which, for this girl who was born in the Sandhills of Nebraska, is a very good thing.