Posted in: willaful, willaful reviews
Tags:TBR Challenge, Wendy SuperLibrarian
My read for SuperWendy’s “New To You Author” TBR challenge is also a big step out of my comfort zone. My associations with “Native American” romance are so bad, I wouldn’t even have owned But That Was Yesterday, if it weren’t part of an anthology. But I happened to read the author’s note about alcoholism and stereotyping, and was intrigued enough to give it a try. This new to me author may well be my next glom, because it’s one terrific book.
The main characters are Sage Parker, a Lakota alcoholic who’s trying to rebuild the life he pissed away through drinking, and Megan McBride, a white engineer who works with him on a road project. When Megan asks Sage for help in dealing with another Indian whose drinking is interfering with work, Sage sums Megan up quickly — and accurately — as a well-meaning bleeding heart, with no genuine understanding whatsoever of what it means to be Indian or alcoholic.
“He saw through her. She was a caretaker, a do-gooder, pure and simple. That was the characteristic that drew them to one another, and the one he had to avoid.
Still, he wondered what she had seen when she looked at him through a woman’s eyes.”
Despite frequent clashes over her naivete and interference, Megan and Sage develop a friendship and Sage begins to share some of his personal identity with her. This was my favorite part of the book: I thought the portrait of Sage was wonderful, because he’s neither completely Americanized nor mystically “other” — rather, he’s a believable person whose personality includes elements from both of the cultures he’s lived in. I think this was most profoundly expressed in the context of Sage’s alcoholism, because part of fighting it has been embracing the spiritual ideas he grew up with and then discarded:
“He remembered when prayer had been suggested to Megan at Medicine Wheel [an AA-like group Sage started]; he’d had the sense that she’d rejected the idea as ineffective. He remembered a time when it had been suggested to him and he’d laughed, too.”
It’s utterly fascinating to me that the one romance I’ve ever read which shows that programs like AA have a spiritual aspect has an American Indian hero. (Sage specifically identifies himself as Indian, not Native American.) Generally, recovery programs in romances are only depicted as support groups, and the 12 steps, a higher power, and so forth are never mentioned. Sage’s program is not identified as following the 12 steps, but pretty much all of the language he uses about the program comes from AA, including needing a power greater than yourself. I can’t help thinking that Eagle could get away with him talking about being spiritually depleted and needing to pray because romance readers expect mysticism from an Indian character. (This is not at all a criticism of Eagle, but a criticism of romance culture.) I would so love to see more good romances about recovery in other cultural contexts.
But back to the book. Gradually, Megan and Sage share a tender, delightful romance. A slight touch of floridness in the love scenes — this was written in 1988, after all — is far outweighed by their tender playfulness. And I appreciated the reality of the conflict between them, which has very little to do with race; it’s more about her inability to recognize the significance of alcoholism in his life. Her own father has “a drinking problem” that her mother should really do something about, and she sees Sage as perfect and heroic. It takes some very painful events for her to understand the deeply flawed, struggling, human person he is.
If it weren’t for an overly quick wrap-up that left a lot of loose ends, I’d give this five stars. As it is, I give it a still very enthusiastic 4 and 1/2. Sadly it’s not in print or available digitally, but used copies aren’t expensive.