Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Diana's Thoughts on "Ceremony"

As promised, here are Diana's thoughts on Ceremony:

This book was nothing like I thought it would be. When I looked at the list of upcoming books to try to identify ones I might want to read along with you, I saw the title "Ceremony" and the name Leslie Marmon Silko. The "silk" part of her last name made me think of luxurious cloth, and coupled with the title I had an idea that the book would be something delicate, feminine, perhaps about a family saga or a marriage (the first kind of ceremony that came to mind). So...I guess this should be a reminder to all of us not to judge a book by its cover (or by the imagery evoked by the title and author alone).

I, unfortunately, did not like this book, did not find it to be feminine or delicate, and did not discover within it a steady narrative of any kind. You could hardly even say that it's about any character at all -- in my opinion Tayo is just a stand-in for Indian people (again, I'm following Silko's lead here with the terminology), and I never connected with him because he's just a composite of emotions and experiences, completely overshadowed by Silko's love affair with nature and her native New Mexico and the web of origin stories/poems she throws in throughout the book. I think the whole thing would be more successful as a blend of short stories and poetry, but maybe that's just my frustration with modern novels talking.

In any case, I found this book brutal, confusing, and occasionally tender, but the moments when I was able to appreciate a thought or a gem of writing were few and far between. At the start, I thought I might be able to get behind Tayo as an underdog, as a castoff within his own family, as someone who made it back from the war when his best friend and uncle did not, however, as the pages went on, I found the rest of the book almost impossible to read. Silko stolidly refuses to help the reader understand Where or When in the story we are, as paragraphs begin willy nilly with such lines as, "He was sitting in the sun outside the screen door when they came driving into the yard." Not only did I not know where geographically the action was taking place, I didn't even know what time it was. I suppose that was partly by design, as the journey Tayo embarks on is more psychological and spiritual than it is physical, but considering that Silko is also obsessed with the land and the flecks of color on the trees and the gulleys and the stone etc. etc. etc. I might have thought she would help us figure out the geography a little more.

I suppose I could say that I learned a little more about the perspective of American Indians from this book than I knew before, but what I really wanted by the end was to know what Leslie Marmon Silko thought, directly, emotionally, not through this veil of poems and confusing plot and characters who never became real to me. I wish I could be less negative, but I think it just comes back to the fact that I read books to enjoy characters going on adventures or solving mysteries or revealing universal truths, but this book was not about characters; it was about ideas like mistrust and betrayal and loss and it was just too fragmented and confusing for me to piece it together to appreciate it. So, I'm sorry Leslie Marmon Silko; I'm going to have to find something else to read if I want to expand my perspective on American lndian life."

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