|The Night Remembers by Kathleen Eagle|
|Avon, $16.00, PG-13, ISBN 0-380-97521-1|
Kathleen Eagle takes her stylish storytelling to inner-city Minneapolis in this contemporary tale of a man and woman running from painful pasts, and a boy who is struggling to envision a future. At times, this is an uncomfortable read. It may make you squirm. But it will not leave you unmoved.
Angela has come to Minneapolis to hide from an abusive boyfriend, a man of some power. Desperate to lay low, she is unsuccessful at finding a job until the day she is befriended by a young boy while sitting on a park bench. The boy, Tommy T, is an old soul in a young body, a product of the streets and parental neglect. But his heart is still kind, and he finds in Angela the friend and mother figure missing from his life, though he won't admit it.
Tommy T is also a talented artist. His dreams lie in the creation named Dark Dog, a mythical hero with super powers. Dark Dog is a necessary dream in Tommy T's world of gangs and violence. Dark Dog doesn't exist, except in Tommy T's mind...
Or does he? Tommy T has another friend, Jesse Brown Wolf. Jesse lives in a dugout built into the banks of the river, and he seems to have special powers of his own. Over animals, anyway. He can stop fighting dogs with a mere look. And one night, Angela is beaten by a gang of thugs, Tommy T goes for the one person who can help, and a special bond is forged between three lost souls who desperately need each other.
What a triad it is. Jesse is afraid to love but is unable to stay away from Angela, so he appears at her side in the night when she's half-awake. A phantom lover. Tommy T. longs for a family, even as he tries to stay loyal to his self-absorbed, absent mother. And Angela is full of love and has nobody to give it to. Plus, there are secondary characters everywhere, all with their own story. This really is an ensemble cast.
Most of this story worked for me, pulled me along, and left me satisfied. Jesse was an admirable hero, struggling to do the right thing while keeping his emotional distance, and finding that sometimes it's impossible not to care. The story moves from city to reservation, as Jesse is drawn home to confront his past and conquer his demons. This was a passage I particularly liked.
Tommy T. seemed a little too good at times, but against the backdrop of poverty and crime, he was probably thrown into relief. Ms. Eagle lets his emotions drift just below the surface, and she does a masterful job of conveying his confusion and longing.
Angela was harder for me to understand. The underlying theme of "abused woman" wasn't borne out by the ending, which I felt resolved the issue too neatly and unrealistically. But her relationship with Tommy T was finely-drawn and realistic. I was rooting for them both.
All in all, this is an unusual and worthwhile read. Kathleen Eagle leaps into uncharted waters while retaining her use of contemporary Native American characters. If you're in the mood for a gritty tale with a larger-than-life hero, The Night Remembers is just what you're looking for. Cathy Sova