by Keith Taylor
Diane Glancy's new novel, Stone Heart: A Novel of Sacajawea, comes just in time for the 200th-anniversary celebrations of the journey of Lewis and Clark. Partly of Cherokee heritage, Glancy has written extensively, in poems and plays as well as fiction, about the tensions between the "native" and the "American," and all these genres play back and forth in her retelling of the story of the sixteen-year-old Shoshoni mother who accompanied the explorers.
Sacajawea has achieved a certain mythical status as the self-sacrificing "guide" without whom Lewis and Clark would have been lost, and Glancy's novel which is both formally inventive and easy to read offers a corrective to the official myth. She humanizes her heroine, investing the young mother with intelligence and emotional nuance. Carrying her infant son the whole way, she endures the abuses of her French Canadian husband, and on arriving at the Pacific, she insists that she be allowed to see the breaking waves and a beached whale. Perhaps most interesting, Glancy's tale stresses that Sacajawea was needed not because she knew where to go but because she knew the words that would get the explorers the horses needed to cross the Rockies.
To tell her tale, Glancy invents a journal for Sacajawea and interweaves it with verbatim excerpts from the actual journals of the expedition's leaders. For instance, recounting how, when a young girl, she was kidnapped from her mountain group by the Hidatsa and taken out into the prairies, Lewis concludes:
. . . tho I cannot discover that she shews any immotion of sorrow in recollecting this event, or of joy in being again restored to her native country; if she has enough to eat and a few trinkets to wear I believe she would be perfectly content anywhere.
In Glancy's fictional journal, Sacajawea is a woman traumatized by her experience and still grieving for the loss of her best friend, another Shoshoni taken from her people:
You dream your legs are oars. You are rowing, running from the Hidatsa. It's the ghost horses you see again. They take you from the Shoshoni. The horses are cutting you in half. You cry in a place the men cannot see. You see Otter Woman's hand stretched out to you.
Diane Glancy reads from Stone Heart and from her poetry at the Ann Arbor District Library on Sunday, April 27.
[Originally published in April, 2003.]