From Publishers Weekly
Winner of this year's Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, Grover's stories work back in time to retrace the rupturing experience of Western schooling on the Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota during the early 20th century. In the title story, narrator Artense's beloved Aunt Shirley is dying of lung cancer as she recounts "the breaking of a culture through the education of its young." In addition to the history, Artense, the oldest child and the first high school graduate, is given Shirley's cherished dancing boots. The intergenerational key is grandma Maggie, who, in "Maggie and Louis," is educated at a mission school and meets her future husband while working as a teacher's assistant at the forbidding Harrod boarding school, which Indian children, taken from their reservations, are forced to attend. Later, in "Three Seasons," Maggie, now a worn-out mother and wife, leaves her drunken and abusive husband and takes her children to live with her alcoholic sister. Even in escape, Maggie has a harsh road ahead, and it's her generous spirit that permeates the stories of the later generations and lends this collection a bright and determined vitality.
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In linked stories, Grover portrays the inhabitants of an imaginary Ojibwe reservation north of Duluth, Minnesota. While Artense, the narrator, attends community college and goes on to graduate school, her aunt Shirley, who lives in Duluth, calls her every couple of weeks to tell her family stories, which Artense passes on to us. Shirley’s multigenerational tale involves Indian boarding schools, homesickness, and racism. Readers also meet Grandma Maggie, who hits her husband with a frying pan, then takes off with her two youngest boys because her three oldest are already at the Indian school; Louis, Maggie’s first husband, whom she meets at the Harrod Indian School; and Sonny and Mickey, who repeatedly escape from Harrod. Before Shirley dies, she gives Artense her suede beaded dancing boots, and Grover writes lyrically of the first time Artense wears them to a powwow, while watching her own daughters join the line of dancing grandmothers, aunts, and cousins. Grover’s collection, for which she won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, is simply mesmerizing. --Deborah Donovan