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Winter in the Blood (Contemporary American Fiction Series) Paperback – March 4, 1986

32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"A nearly flawless novel about human life . . . Few books in any year speak so unanswerably, make their own local terms so thoroughly ours."
-Reynolds Price, The New York Times Book Review

"For some readers this will be the most significant piece of Indian writing they have yet encountered; for others it will simply be a brilliant novel."
-The New Republic

"An unnervingly beautiful book."
-Roger Sale, The New York Review of Books --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

James Welch is the author of the novels Winter in the Blood, Fools Crow, for which he received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, an American Book Award, and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, The Indian Lawyer, The Death of Jim Lonely, and most recently, Killing Custer: The Battle of the Little Bighorn and the Fate of the Plains Indians. He attended schools on the Blackfeet and Fort Belknap reservations in Montana, and he graduated from the University of Montana, where he studied writing with the late Richard Hugo. Until recently, he served on the Montana State Board of Pardons. He lives in Missoula with his wife, Lois.

Bestselling author Louise Erdrich grew up in North Dakota and is of German and Turtle Mountain Chippewa descent. Her novels include Love Medicine and The Beet Queen.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Contemporary American Fiction Series
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Contemporary American Fiction Series edition (March 4, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140086447
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140086447
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,138,399 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Scheer on January 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
James Welch is probably Montana's foremost Native American writer, and this wonderful novella is evidence of considerable talent. Published 30 years ago (1974), it takes place in the shadow that was cast by the nation's approaching bicentennial. While neither bitter nor angry, it manages anyway to portray a country that has little to show for itself but "greed and stupidity." The values it embraces are finally those available to every American, native or otherwise - compassion and respect for life and the living.
The story concerns a few days in the life of a 32-year-old man, descendant of Indians and living in two worlds, his mother's home on the reservation and the dreary bars and hotels of nearby Havre and Malta, Montana. His days and nights blending together in an alcoholic haze, he meets a deranged white man, picks up women and gets punched in the nose. Meanwhile, he is haunted by a past that includes the death of an older brother and an injury to his knee that multiple operations have not remedied. Out of these unpromising circumstances, Welch finds the beginnings of a kind of personal salvation. By reaching back through the memory of a blind old man's act of charity, he restores the younger man's vision of himself.
Among the ranks of modern Native American writers, such as Louise Erdrich, Welch opens up a world for non-Indian readers that goes well beyond the usual stereotypes. His Indians are strikingly individual, absorbed in the everyday, motivated as much by self-interest and cock-eyed notions as their white counterparts. In Welch's hands, a conversation among five of them can be as comic and absurd as Ionesco. Meanwhile, the Native American past is there to ground a person with a sense of purpose and identity. For all its sorrows, Welch's story is finally a joy to read.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 16, 1997
Format: Paperback
The ambition of criticism, it is often said, is to obtain a balanced view of the writer's work that is criticized. But where the work in question is Winter in the Blood this is peculiary difficult, which is illustrated by the great variety of critical response that ranges from Reynolds Price's reaction that it is "a nearly flawless novel" to an unsigned review in the New Yorker which refers to the novel as "an interesting, if seriously flawed first novel." The contrast between these opposite reactions makes clear that the reading of this novel is greatly determined by our experiences with 'Indian' novels, hence with our expectations. The second, in my opinion, 'seriously flawed' reaction is perhaps based on the reviewer's 'tyranny of expectations', reinforced by the fact that Winter in the Blood is indeed confusing with regard to the way it should be approached. On the one hand you feel like falling about with laughter at the excruciatingly funny situations in the book, while on the other hand you try hard to supress that laughter out of respect for the Native's past and present, solely based on our limited view that books by Indian writers cannot be funny because their life and tragic history is not funny. Paradoxically, by being respectful, we are, in fact, disrespectful; by refraining from laughter out of respect for the Indian situation, we are at the same time, unintentionally, disrespectful because we categorize the Native works of art beforehand as serious, angry or whatever term that fits the stereotypical expectations.
Critics have approached the novel anthropologically, sociologically, psychologically, philosophically, politically, oneirocritically, and comically.
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39 of 45 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
Winter in the Blood is a tour de force. Welch draws on Blackfeet (not "Indian") culture and history here, and he relies directly upon that tradition for the mythic center of this extraordinarily tight novel. If the reader doesn't know about Old Man and Old Woman from Blackfeet stories, he or she will miss much here, and if the reader expects stoic and vanishing Indians in another cliched novel there is bound to be disappointment. Welch uses this comic novel to comment brilliantly upon the long history of genocide Native Americans have to deal with and something like survivor's guilt that confronts Native people today. At the same time, Welch parodies from a Native perspective such mainstream American icons as T. S. Eliot and Saul Bellow. Readers not familiar with Native American, and particularly Blackfeet, traditions and cultures and accustomed to the usual stereotypes may well be confused by this superb novel, but the fault will lie with the reader and not the text.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Mark Eckenrode on May 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
Written by American-Indian author James Welch, Winter in the Blood portrays a thirty two year old American-Indian man who lives on a reservation in Montana with his mother. He engages in no activities that you could term truly heroic -- he works on his family farm, gets into a bar fight in town, has one-night stands, becomes a partner with strangers in crime. What distinguishes this novel is how it gives us a view of the `American Experience' through non-white eyes. It is meant to be an authentic portrait of American Indian life in the late twentieth century; it is like a painting of the American West that is evocative of certain mood and of a certain time and place, but which does not convey anything very profound.

The prose is earthy, gritty in style. I found it to be the best, most enjoyable part of the novel. The style is simple in a very matter-of-fact way -- it can be funny, crude, or emotionally stirring, but it is like this simply as a matter of relating things as they strike the protagonist (for instance, there is a part where he says that once he shot his neighbor's dog solely because he "was drunk and it was moving.") The prose manages to be evocative without demonstrating that the author knows how to use a thesaurus, exhibiting a skillful expressiveness executed with an economy of means. What's appealing about this novel is no so much what the protagonist does as it is the gripping means with which the scenes are conveyed.

The main character, however, is not well developed; most of the secondary characters are more fleshed out and more compelling than the protagonist himself. (True enough, though, this novel is more about the environment the central character is in than about the protagonist himself.
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