In this haunting first novel, a young girl, growing up in an American suburb, collects the wings of dead birds and dreams of flying. Her mind is filled with stories of the generations of strong Irish women who came before her as she faces her parents: a mother lost in alcohol, a father deaf to any sound except his beloved opera records. At thirteen, she runs away from her mother’s shrieks and her father’s silence, travelling west into the desert, following the path her Irish grandmother travelled over a hundred years before. Picked up by an old woman in an old truck, she is taken to a Navajo reservation, and so begins her initiation into a new world fuelled by a history reaching back to the dawn of creation. Here the stories are of animals, spirits, and the elements, richly retold as her adopted mother told them to her. Here are the stories of Scavenger, loved by the Wind and raised in an Eagle’s nest; of First Woman who changed prayer into witchcraft because she wanted it that way; of the history of the Navajo since the coming of the white conquerors brought death, displacement, and disease. The girl moves between the worlds of her two mothers: back to the suburbs and the forced artifice of parties and Christmas celebrations, and her desert mother whose hands are always working as she tells her stories. As the girl becomes a young woman, discovering her sexuality, she faces first the death of her father, and then her mother’s final insanity. Her dreams are filled with the stories of the Navajo, each touched by the primal colours of legend. In this novel, Dennison Smith has created an extraordinary novel, shimmering with images as intense and powerful as the desert sun.
PRAISE FOR SCAVENGER:
“Leonard Cohen’s spiritual daughter…Smith threads together a story woven in language that is equally beautiful and harsh, and mixed with mythology and history to contrast the realities of 20th century living. Mostly, though what conjures up images of Cohen, page after page, is Smith’s ability to sustain an image so breathtakingly – making the concrete abstract, so that all that remains, and matters, is the language.” The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Canada