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Them Bones Mass Market Paperback – May 5, 1955
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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That is one of the problems in this adventure. Leake's adventures are initially without much surprise or usual human distrust. Meanwhile, the narration of the trials of the troop, also in ancient times, but not with Leake, are cobbled together so that none of it seems to have much to do with the rest of the novel. Except for Bessie, the archeologist trying to learn the secrets of two burial mounds that are threatened by hard rains, and the breaking of a dam that holds back the river.
There are lot of holes in this tale that the reader must fill on his own, partly from a knowledge of history and partly from one's own imagination. The research is good. The narration is good. The humor is subtle and welcome. But the connections, the details, are lacking. The emotion isn't strong. The characters aren't fully developed. I probably should have started with Waldrop's short stories, which get high praise, and which have been very entertaining when he reads them aloud.
It's 1929 and archaeologists are digging in a mound in Louisiana when they find something very exciting: the skeleton of a horse. What's so exciting about that? From the skeleton's position in the mound, it was in America a few centuries before it was supposed to be. Then the archaeologists dig a little more and find something even more curious: the cause of the horse's death--a cartridge from a rifle.
Them Bones sticks to the Moundbuilder culture of prehistoric America, but the story is told from differing viewpoints: the 1929 team of archaeologists, a scout sent back to the wrong time to prevent World War III, and the group of soldiers who followed him.
The story moves quickly--too quickly--and the chapters involving the group of soldiers tend to be downright confusing. The 1929 group of archaeologists and the scout had the most interesting stories to tell, especially Leake (the scout) who became well-acquainted with the group of Indians he found himself amongst. I've visited Cahokia, the one remaining supreme example of Moundbuilder culture. It is awe-inspiring, so I enjoyed Waldrop's choice of setting and the Indian characters Leake met.
The bones were there for a wonderful book, but they just weren't fleshed out. The setting was a winner, but the pace was too fast and the characters not fully realized. I'm glad that I read the book because it encouraged me to go online and do a bit more research on Cahokia, but Them Bones left me feeling like Oliver Twist. Please sir...couldn't I have had some more?
One storyline follows a 1929 archaeological dig in Louisiana targeting the remnants of a Moundbuilder Native American site. When they uncover a historically impossible horse skeleton, followed by a brass bullet cartridge, the race is on to figure out what's going on before the entire area is flooded. The second storyline (and the true heart of the book) follows Leake, a soldier sent from 2002 into the past to try and alter history so that the Third Wold War doesn't engulf the world. As with so many such plots, the timing is a little off, and he ends up in Precolumbian America, in the midst of the Moundbuilder area. The third storyline, written as memos and diary excerpts, follows the rest of Leake's unit, as they hop back in time to the same era and end up hunkered down trying to fend off (rightfully) hostile natives.
From what I understand, Waldrop favors these kind of "what if" scenarios, and does a ton of research to amp up the verisimilitude. What he's clearly less interested in is threading the three storylines together in a meaningful way. Each is compelling enough in its own right, but the archaeologists and other soldiers come across as mere afterthoughts to Leake's stranger-in-a-strange-land storyline. It's not the greatest writing, but I'm a sucker for these kind of time-travel gone wrong plots, so I had a good time with it. Diverting enough for the beach or poolside.