Stone Heart, by Diane Glancy, a book review

I became acquainted with the work of Diane Glancy when I lived in Minnesota. She’s an interesting person, with a rather bifurcated background (Cherokee/Baptist) who has been incredibly prolific, producing award-winning poetry, plays, fiction, and non-fiction.

I enjoyed hearing Ms. Glancy speak at Festival of Faith & Writing in April, so I picked up, at random, one of her more recent works. Stone Heart: A Novel of Sacajawea is fiction based on history. I’ve long been intrigued by Lewis & Clark, so this was a great layer to add to that story of adventure.

This is a slim novel with an interesting format. Excerpts from Lewis and Clark’s journals are laid out on the right side of the page, and Sacajawea’s thoughts and story are laid along the left. Since very little is actually known about this woman (including the proper way to spell or pronounce her name), other than the fact that she was Shoshoni and abducted by the Hidatsa, Ms. Glancy has filled in the gaps from her own research and imagination. One thing is certain: Sacajawea did not play the guiding role that legend has accorded her. Instead, she was often ill, endured a difficult birth early in the trip, and was beaten by her husband, who was a French-Canadian.

How refreshing to step out of my own skin for a bit. Or perhaps better said: to step back and get a different perspective on my own skin after being in another character’s for a moment. Isn’t that, after all, why we read fiction? I could relate to many things about Sacajawea’s life: her heart for adventure; her admiration of both Lewis and Clark, for different reasons; her feeling like a stranger in a strange land much of the time; her passionate concern for her child; and, finally, her constant awareness that her role was marginal and shaped by men and power beyond her control.

The universal story is made manifest in the particular. Amen.


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