[McManus is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and educator. In the following mixed review of Green Grass, Running Water , he examines the novel's structure.]
“As long as the grass is green and the waters run” is a phrase indicating perpetuity in 18th- and 19th-century treaties that ceded Indian land to the Governments of the United States and Canada. The Cherokee writer Thomas King uses the phrase in his second novel, Green Grass, Running Water, to underscore contemporary skepticism and rage about documents signed under duress several generations ago.
Even the hapless Blackfoot, Lionel Red Dog, a television and stereo salesman who is the novel's central character, can recognize the malignant, if unintended, irony:
It was a nice phrase, all right. But it didn't mean anything.....Every Indian on the reserve knew that. Treaties were hardly sacred documents. They were contracts, and no one signed a contract for eternity. No one. Even the E-Z Pay contracts Bursum [Lionel's condescending white boss] offered to his customers to help make a complete home entertainment system affordable never ran much past 5 or 10 years. Even with the balloon payment.
Such treaties continue to be enforced, of course, even though the prairie around the Blackfoot reserve in Alberta is no longer green enough to support any game, and the province has literally stopped the waters from running by damming a sacred tribal river.
The narrative whirling around Lionel's midlife crisis and the not unrelated completion of the dam consists of eight major strands; from the opening pages we begin to feel uneasy about whether...