Brutal truth - no blame assigned
The Rez: An American Love Story
By g. Michael Madison
It’s 1956 and the Tulalip Indian Reservation on the coast of northern Washington State is not where Ginny Thomas wants to live, nor is it where she wants her daughter Nikki-D, to be brought up. But it’s where her husband, Nick, is able to get a job managing a small regional bank. Despite her disappointment, the family still lives in the biggest house at the top of Mission Bluffs, looking out over Puget Sound and down on The Rez.
It’s a "them and us" community separated by wealth (or the lack of it), race, and elevation. The Indians stay below near the shoreline. Going where you don’t belong can be met with derision and violence, so it’s not surprising when Jonny, a young Indian boy, climbs the bluffs he’s confronted by two older white kids who set about beating him up. What is surprising is when Nikki-D happens upon this altercation and takes the side of the Indian boy. This chance meeting leads to a life-long friendship that has ramifications that change the perspectives, if not the lives, of both individuals, as well as their families and community.
The Rez: An American Love Story is set in a tumultuous time in America’s history and the characters are impacted by events including the Vietnam War but because of their disparate circumstances, each experiences them differently.
The powerful narrative voice of author g. Michael Madison imparts the story with brutal honesty and authenticity. His use of multiple points of view, not just that of Indians, bestows impartiality to the message. The multitude of characters wash over the reader like an extended family and are depicted not as stereotypical victims or oppressors but as genuine individuals.
Madison addresses prejudice, discrimination, and how the gap between rich and poor affects a community providing advantages for some and denying the opportunity for others, but he does it without assigning blame.
Despite the extremes, the author manages to instill empathy for even the most privileged. There is suffering and success, anxiety and joy despite their situations.
The Rez: An American Love Story, is not only about romantic love, but it’s also about loving yourself, loving your neighbors and community, and even loving your country. It’s about being tolerant and understanding of their flaws and shortcomings and striving to improve all that it entails. The deep humanity depicted by Madison can serve as a guide toward truth and reconciliation with First Nations people by acknowledging that accepting and encouraging diversity neither denies nor diminishes ourselves.
Reviewed by Rod Raglin