Maria's Reviews > God's Country

God's Country by Percival Everett
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Apr 16, 2011

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bookshelves: graduate-reading-list, western
Recommended to Maria by: Dr. Marit MacArthur
Read on April 16, 2011 — I own a copy , read count: 1

Percival Everett’s God’s Country is one of those books that are designed to challenge and subvert what Americans think they know about the West. This is a funny book, but the humor leaves the reader unsure of whether to laugh or be horrified or both—it’s an uncomfortable feeling, and one that complicates the popular “cowboys and Indians” mythology Americans have experienced through literature and film. The book was an incredibly fast read, but it spends every minute immersed in questions of race, class, and gender in 1870’s Kansas and doesn’t pull its punches when dealing with this subject matter; whether or not events like these are historical in their accuracy, they carry with them the ring of truth, and paint a picture of an America in which “conscience is a needling and extremely useless condition” (132).

The story begins with Curt Marder arriving at his homestead to discover that a group of men dressed as Indians have burned down his home, killed his dog, and are about to kidnap his wife Sadie. Marder reasons that there is little he can do because he is outnumbered, so he watches the raiders finish and ride off. Although he is somewhat concerned about his wife’s abduction, it is in a self-interested way; after all, who will make his coffee and meals? But this text satirizes the “code of the frontier,” which requires that Marder at least go through the motions of recovering his wife, even if he is disinterested in doing so (27). Marder heads into town to recruit help to rescue his wife, but the greater concern seems to be for the fate of his dog: Sadie’s “horrible plight” can’t be helped, it is the “way life is, full of strange leather,” but the dog’s death is the act of uncivilized people (4). Poor and unable to recruit any help to his cause, Marder promises black tracker Bubba half of his fifty-two acre homestead in exchange for his help. For Bubba, this is the ultimate dream, a space where he doesn’t have to “worry about a white man decidin’ [he] looked crosswise at him…where [he] ain’t called a boy” (216-17). But Marder has learned his “frontier Christian lessons” well: He will “lie, steal, [and] cheat” to get what he wants and his word to bubba means nothing (92).

Bubba, by contrast, is the heart of the story, and he is Marder’s opposite in in more than just color. When Marder allows the young boy Jake to join their search for Sadie it is Bubba who recognizes that Jake is really Jen, and sympathizes with the young woman’s desire to seek justice for the murder of her parents at the hands of the same men who took Sadie. In another episode, Marder’s actions lead to the massacre of a friendly tribe of Native Americans, and it is Bubba who takes on the responsibility for their burial and promises to avenge their deaths. Although he is often at the mercy of the good will of the whites around him, Bubba is the character with the greatest amount of clarity of purpose and ethics. What is perhaps most interesting about Bubba as a character is that the entire story is told in the first person by Marder, and Bubba’s heroism and resistance still shine through the text, with the result that the reader experiences his oppression through the eyes of his oppressor. It is a disconcerting experience that makes the reader complicit in the mistreatment and cruelty that Bubba, Jake, and the Indian tribe experience. As Madison Smartt Bell writes, “[i]n the end, [Marder is] the one we have to own,” who “[w]e can’t kick…all the way out of the picture.”
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Reading Progress

04/16/2011 page 55
25.0%
04/16/2011 page 113
52.0% "I'd had little truck with god and the bible and like that, and maybe I didn't know much, but everything that Simon Phrensie and every other scripture vulture on the plains called sin was what I thought a man was supposed to sniff out."
04/16/2011 page 155
71.0% ""A conscience is a needling and extremely useless condition." UGH! Another dispicable character!"

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