Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The First Dance

Western writer Richard S. Wheeler gives us the latest novel in his Barnaby Skye series, The First Dance, which deals with border conflicts in Montana in the 1880’s. Barnaby’s son Dirk, half English and half Shoshone, is abandoned on his wedding day by his bride, the enigmatic Métis girl, Therese. Crushed and mystified by his wife’s rejection, Dirk returns to his job as a civilian translator with the United States army. He finds himself in the unenviable position of having to participate in driving his wife’s people the Métis, who are a tribe of mixed French Canadian and Native American heritage, back over the border into Canada where they have already suffered persecution. When his commanding officer sinks to unconscionable acts, then Dirk objects and loses his livelihood. He decides to help the Métis, many of whom are starving and freezing in the wilderness with their families. In the course of his adventures he is befriended by Pap Reilly, an Irish hog farmer with a shady past, who gives shelter to the beleaguered immigrants. In the meantime, Dirk encounters his wife Therese, who claims to have had a vision of St. Teresa of Avila, and is determined to build a church for the Métis. Still reeling from Therese’s desertion, Dirk dedicates himself to her cause nevertheless, and protects her from the hostile locals, until his psychological “dance” with her reaches its climax. Written with both tender pathos and blunt insights, Wheeler plumbs the souls of his characters even as he captures the harshness and majesty of the Montana landscapes. Filled with humor, tears and intriguing historical detail, it is impossible to go away from the book without having learned a thing or two about the West, and about human nature as well. 
(*NOTE: This review was originally published in the November 2011 issue of the Historical Novels Review. The First Dance was sent to me by the Historical Novel Society in exchange for my honest opinion.)



Richard Collins said...

Your description was so good I've ordered a copy already.
Thank you.

elena maria vidal said...

Great! Thanks!