House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday

house made of dawnI confess: I didn’t get it.

I did read it, but there was more skimming towards than the end than is legally allowed in thirteen states.

N. Scott Momaday’s story of a young Native American man named Abel who is torn between his ancestral homeland and modern Los Angeles, left me wondering what was going on most of the time.

Though, strangely, it also made me think about my own writing.

The river lies in a valley of hills and fields. Opening to House Made of Dawn

After several years of blogging, I took a serious look at my writing and noticed an over-reliance on the word “and.”  (You can already see what I mean.)  There are writers who can get away with using “and” a lot, but I felt that I was just using it as a crutch.  Compound sentence after compound sentence, compound verb after compound verb, not because it sounded better, just because that was what first came to mind.

While it worked very well for Papa Hemingway, it was not working so well for me. So I started removing the word “and” as often as I could.  Though I’m probably the only one who noticed it, I felt my writing improved greatly as a result.

So when I first noticed the overuse of “and” in House Made of Dawn, I immediately wondered if it was bad writing.  Take this example:

There is a kind of life that is peculiar to the land in summer–a wariness, a seasonal equation of well-being and alertness.  Road runners take on the shape of motion itself, urgent and angular, or else they are like the gnarled, uncovered roots of ancient, stunted trees, some ordinary ruse of the land itself, immovable and forever there.  And quail, at evening, just failing to suggest the waddle of too much weight, take cover with scarcely any talent for alarm, and spread their wings to the ground; and if then they are made to take flight, the imminence of no danger on earth can be more apparent; they explode away like a shot, and there is nothing but the dying whistle and streak of their going.  Frequently in the sun there are pairs of white and russet hawks soaring to the hunt.  And when one falls off and alights, there will be a death in the land, for it has come down to place itself like a density between its prey and the burrow from which its prey has come; and then the other, the killer hawk, turns around in the sky and breaks its glide and dives.  It is said that hawks, when they have nothing to fear in the open land, dance upon the carnage of their kills. In the highest heat of the day, rattlesnakes lie outstretched upon the dunes, as it the sun had wound them and lain upon them like a line of fire, or, knowing of some vibrant presence on the air, they writhe away in agony of time. And on their own accord they go at sundown into the earth, hopelessly, as if to some unimaginable reckoning in the underworld.  Coyotes have the gift of being seldom seen; they keep to the edge of vision and beyond , loping in and out of cover on the plains and highlands.  And at night, when the whole world belongs to them, they parley at the river with the dogs, their higher, sharper voices full of authority and rebuke.  They are an old council of clowns, and they are listened to.

imageThat’s a long paragraph, granted, but I counted 20 “and’s”.  Was I wrong about the word “and.”

To be honest, the writing in the opening section of House Made of Dawn really bothered me.  I understand that it’s supposed to be poetry, my limited research into the book revealed that the first draft was written as a series of poems, but I found it a bit tiresome, taking 40 words to say something that could be said in 15.  Fortunately, the author moved away from it after the opening section of the book.

Unfortunately, just what exactly was going on did not become any more clear to me after the prose left poetry behind.

So I ended up skimming the final section of the book.

I’m told that this is great literature.  It certainly was confusing.