From Publishers Weekly
Struggling almost from the first page to find its speed, this ungainly road-trip novel is burdened with clichs and redundancies, and stumbles along under the weight of stillborn characters until it finally sputters to a halt. Charlie Sarris, an itinerant handyman, is a 60-something veteran of WWII suffering from alcoholism and depression. Toothless and emphysemic, he encounters John Stone, an itinerant Sioux (maybe) medicine man who introduces him to the spiritual world of Indian religion. John persuades Charlie to join him in a vision quest, which involves a sweat lodge ceremony, during which John is confronted by his archenemy, Whiteshirt, a rival shaman, who then spiritually pursues the pair in a wild, drunken chase down the eastern seaboard, where the novel grinds to a nervous halt in a series of highly coincidental and improbable events. Vagueness of setting (Pennsylvania, New York?) and era ('60s, '70s, '80s?) cause frustration, and few plot lines are sustained for more than two or three pages. Contrivance beaches are furnished with both working airplanes and handy twigs is coupled with inconsistency in the presentation of the characters' main traits, and the confusion of internal thought with spoken dialogue produces an implausible narrative. The Indian lore is thin (and specious) and becomes tedious and repetitive early on. This is an ambitious effort that could have incorporated magical realism and mystical notions into a gritty quest to discover the value of life,
la Kerouac and Steinbeck, the two models Dann (The Man Who Melted, etc.) acknowledges in an afterword. Unfortunately, it becomes an endurance test for the reader, who must follow two poorly realized characters as they struggle to make a confused story meaningful.
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From the Author
My characters often have different "intentions" than their author, who often sits bemusedly in front of the laptop while the characters engage in their own conversations and take the "plot" in directions I never intended. I had intended Counting Coup to be a straight-forward road novel, a novel about two men who are at the end of their lives and decide to show the world that they are still alive, still vital, and can still drink, shout, and shake the trees. I thought Id write a novel in the tradition of Jack Kerouacs On the Road, or John Steinbecks Cannery Row. Originally, I thought it would be interesting to explore the interaction of two men from different cultures in similar circumstances. But once again the research changed the story...and of course my life.
The elements of magical realism in Counting Coup are close to the truth of my own private experiences. I have found as I enter my more mature, reflective years that my "real" life is scattered with these small bits of magic realism. Or perhaps its just that as I wander through that distant country that is my past I recast the ordinary into the numinal.