Friday, June 3, 2016

House Made of Dawn - book review

The short paragraph on the back of the paperback edition of the 1969 Fiction Pulitzer Prize winner, House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday, describes the story like this:

A young Native American, Abel has come home from a foreign war to find himself caught between two worlds. The first is the world of his father's, wedding him to the rhythm of the seasons, the harsh beauty of the land, and the ancient rites and traditions of his people. But the other world - modern, industrial America - pulls at Abel, demanding his loyalty, claiming his soul, goading him into a destructive, compulsive cycle of dissipation and disgust. And the young man, torn in two, descends into hell.

However, only about one-fourth of the book tells the story of Abel! The book is divided into four sections:

Section 1 occurs in and around the Indian village of Abel's youth, although he plays only a minor part. The story wanders between his grandfather, the town missionary, and a white woman renting a nearby house. Abel is mentioned very sporadically - when his grandfather picks him up from the bus station (he stumbles off the bus drunk), after he chops wood for the white woman they are intimate, he stabs and kills an albino Indian after a day of drinking and celebrations.

Section 2 occurs in Los Angeles and centers around the "Priest of the Sun" and shares several of his rambling and difficult to follow sermons.

Section 3 is told from the first person perspective of a friend of Abel's in Los Angeles. He recounts how Abel came to Los Angeles after having grown up on a reservation, served in the military, killed a man, and spent time in prison. Most of the stories revolve around them working and getting drunk. Abel's drinking finally causes him to lose his job, and he eventually ends up with lots of broken bones after a drunken fight. His friend puts him on a bus back home.

Section 4 is short and is set once again in the Indian village. There are some stories of his grandfather and then we see Abel sitting with his grandfather as he dies.

This book was written in very flowery prose (which was not surprising after I learned that the author is also a published poet) and was very difficult to follow. I was well over halfway through the book before I felt there was any plot line at all, and it was not a very strong one. I'm glad this was a relatively short book and firmly place it in the batch of Pulitzer prize winners that I would not read again or recommend.

Have you read this book or anything else from this author?


  1. No I haven't read any. Though I know enough now about your choices to think that if you weren't keen, I probably wouldn't be either!

  2. Ive never even heard of that book!
    Good for you for keeping up.
    I just put up a long book post on my blog.

  3. Like Maria, I've never heard of the book or the author. Most of the Pulitzer prize winners I at least recognize.

  4. I've never read anything by this author. This book doesn't sound like something I would like. Thanks for the review.


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