Neither Wolf Nor Dog (Nerburn)

Kent Nerburn gets a call, or called. Dan, an 80-year-old Native American, wants to speak. Based on Nerburn’s work on previous books that Dan has read, he has selected Nerburn (as he’s called throughout the book) to tell his story. After a few false starts, they, along with Dan’s sidekick, Rover, go on a “little trip.” Nerburn struggles as a writer, as a white man who is a writer and a family man, but he finally seems to listen to what Dan has to say. In terms of structure, I think Nerburn chose wisely. He lets Dan speak for himself. At times, it feels like Nerburn is perilously close to making the story be about himself. He’s not irrelevant, to be sure, but to make this his story would be to fall into one of the dangerous areas that Dan laments.

There are times when I questioned Nerburn’s word choice. Why, for example, does he persist in calling the Grandfather at Annie’s house “the legless” man even after he knows who he is? (The man has lost his legs – diabetes.)

To his credit, Nerburn keeps his chapters short and the story moving. He is not afraid of making himself look badly.

This is a powerful and provocative book – one quite worthy of discussion.

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