For her acclaimed collection of stories, Red Ant House, Joyce Carol Oates hailed Ann Cummins as “a master storyteller.” The San Francisco Chronicle called her “startlingly original.” Now, in her debut novel, Cummins stakes claim to rich new literary territory with a story of straddling cultures and cheating fate in the American Southwest. Yellowcake introduces us to two unforgettable families—one Navajo, one Anglo—some thirty years after the closing of the uranium mill near which they once made their homes. When little Becky Atcitty shows up on the Mahoneys’ doorstep all grown up, the past comes crashing in on Ryland and his lively brood. Becky, the daughter of one of the Navajo mill workers Ryland had supervised, is now involved in a group seeking damages for those harmed by the radioactive dust that contaminated their world. But Ryland wants no part of dredging up their past—or acknowledging his future. When his wife joins the cause, the messy, modern lives of this eclectic cast of characters collide once again, testing their mettle, stretching their faith, and reconnecting past and present in unexpected new ways.
Finely crafted, deeply felt, and bursting with heartache and hilarity, Yellowcake is a moving story of how everyday people sort their way through life, with all its hidden hazards.
A well-constructed novel about the intersection of two cultures in rural New Mexico. The characters and setting are imperfect in just the right ways. One of the main characters doesn't even show up until the very end, but it's not one page before she should have.
The plot of Ann Cummins' first novel, 'Yellowcake,' seems to suggest that we're in for a pretty shrill experience: Native Americans dying from chemical exposure at a shuttered uranium mine. Regardless of your politics, that looks like a beam of white guilt that will irradiate all subtlety. Discovering that Cummins delivers something far more nuanced is just one of many surprises in this rich and touching
This book is not a coming of age story. Or maybe it is. I really liked it. Every player grows on you, and even tho it is about a group of people spanning generations I loved them equally. well... I kind of loved Delmar the most. Really good read and I will look for things by this lady again. Go go Holgate library randomly picked books!
I picked this book up at the Tuba City Trading Post in Arizona while on a book research trip in the Four Corners area. Having just been where this book takes place, and having spent time with some Navajo acquaintances, it meant more to me. The characters are interesting (though I found the beginning of the book slow)and unpredictable enough to keep the plot moving along.
I really appreciated Cummins's respectful, nuanced portrayal of both Navajo culture in the SW U.S. and Navajo-white interactions in a former uranium-mining town. She clearly did her research. And all the characters were complex, compelling, sympathetic even when they hurt other people. Highly recommended.
This is an author I think is unusually gifted. She is writing about a culture and a place that isn't written about enough. The writing is sharp, and the detail is clear. She understands the human condition... Still, I wanted to have a few more rays of hope and joy.
This book was well written and I liked the layout (different perspective each chapter). However, I kept waiting for something to happen, someone to learn something. It never happened. Delmar was still on parole, Sam never learns anything, Lily doesn't get help, Ryland is dying, Becky is mad, and the world keeps turning. I'm glad I read it but I'm not sure I'll be suggesting it to anyone unless they're interested in uranium.
I really really enjoyed reading this book but, all of a sudden, it was over, and I felt cheated by all the loose ends. Real life may not offer much in the way of closure but somehow I felt I deserved to know more about the fate of these (mostly) beloved characters.
The characters are still with me in detail days after I finished the book. Ryland, the older white guy suffering from what uranium exposure wrought in his body, is still not willing to attend any of the meetings that seek compensation. He was a boss, and when he looks at his role, he still feels his life was good. Detailed portrait of daily rounds of a certain type of white family on whose good will this country is founded. His friend Sam, a bit of a ne'er do well with a drinking problem, but attractive in his ability to survive off the grid. In love with both his separated wife and a long-time woman who lives on the Navajo res. Sam's mixed-blood son Delmar, trying to get on the straight and narrow after his run ins with the law. Delmar's cousin Becky, daughter of a Navajo man truly dying from uranium exposure. Raised by an adopted-as-a-child Christian mother, Becky is caught between the worlds. Then there are Rosy (Ryland's wife) and Lily (Sam's trying-to-be ex), a pair of sisters who again, exemplify white life in both their industriousness and their hang-ups. So what to make of this melange? The law moves slowly, if at all, toward an accounting of the effects of uranium exposure, and meantime they all have their lives. They are interconnected, but it's not all one story. The author is apparently known for her short stories, and each thread is its own tale. I appreciated this about the book. A compelling cross-section of rural life around the Four Corners, an area I have only visited. Oh, and BTW, The NYT reviewer liked Lily the best, but I did not like her much at all, though I did find her interesting. I believe I liked Sam the best. Or Delmar. As for Becky--sincere and seeking the truth--for me she is the heroine of the book.
I really wanted to like this book more. I'm currently living on the Navajo rez and this book is all about the uranium contamination and uranium mining that took place near Shiprock, NM in the 1940s-1970s. It evoked a lot of imagery and beautiful scenes that reminded me of places I'd been and people I'd met. I think Cummings does do a good job of realistically describing a lot of the intricacies of the res. But, the characters really left something to be desired. I've come to realize that I just don't like books with characters I hate. Like I hated Sam. I empathize with the guy, he's sad, an alcoholic, depressed, alone. That must suck. He still sounds like a shitty guy and I wouldn't want anything to do with him. So, I hated him more and more. The book just generally dragged on. Pages would be devoted to something random that didn't matter in the end. So, in sum, unless you live on the res, and care about uranium issues, you probably shouldn't bother with the book. And if then, only because you saw it in the Tuba City trading post and it looked good.
The title refers to a product of uranium processing. The story is about the lives of retired mill workers and their families, 17 years after the mine on a Navajo reservation closed.
The story is complex and well crafted. There is lots of realistic detail and dialogue, as well as the points of view of two generations, white and Navajo and mixed-race. Ryland Mahoney, former boss of the mill, exhibits a pride in his work that seems antique, part of our nation in a different era, when manufacturing was king. In his memories he romanticizes both the work and the lives of the workers, especially his friend Sam. I liked Becky Atcitty and her cousin Delmar, the younger generation in the town.
Some reviewers have not enjoyed the lack of a definitive ending, but I felt that Cummins left room for the reader to speculate on many possible endings. The lives and community she describes do not lend themselves to neat endings.
I really enjoyed this. The story of the Navajo and white community surrounding a former Uranium mining site is incredibly complex. The characters' interwoven stories are really engaging. I liked that all the characters were compelling -- sometimes in books with multiple perspectives, one person is more interesting, but that wasn't the case here. (Although I really wanted to see Alice's perspective, because she remained a mystery to me -- what did she see in Sam? How did she feel about Delmar? Why does she keep disappearing?)I liked the absence of the happy ending as well -- there isn't a tidy finish, which is unsettling, but is true to the book.
Dan warned me that the characters were difficult to keep track of in this novel, so I paid extra attention to them in the beginning. As a result, I ended up enjoying a few of them in particular and the plot in general. Set in northwestern New Mexico, the story addresses the plight of uranium millworkers after years of working in a local factory without proper safety equipment. As two millworkers die of lung diseases, we see their family dramas unfold. Cummins does an excellent job of exploring questions of personal, corporate, and communal responsibility, while illuminating the cultures and landscapes of the Southwest.
I hoped this book would becoming compelling, but it missed the mark. There were so many possibilities for a driving storyline and somehow each just petered out. I felt I made very little connection to any of the characters, which could be in part because they all seemed to be just floating through existence with no real purpose. Delmar was the closest to being relatable; Sam and Ryland were entirely out of touch (though not for lack of trying by the author, they just didn't gel with me). I also had a had time keeping track of who each character was and where each lived. Overall, a bland and frustrating read.
Story of 3 men who worked together in a uranium mill on a reservation. Their 3 lives and families are intertwined, but separated culture, white and Indian. Complex set of characters, very real, no real good guys, no real bad guys, Just people trying to get by. This book was recommended to me by a friend who is always trying to get me to read something other than mysteries. This one was good.
This is closer to a 3.5-star book, but I did enjoy the variety of characters and the reservation setting. I felt like a couple of the story arcs were left a little too unresolved (particularly Lily), but I was also glad that it was more about the people than about the movement to bring the lawsuit against the uranium mine. A very interesting portrait of the mining town and Navajo reservation.
It was interesting to read about our town and nearby communities in this book, not to mention the connection to the Navajo people, culture and language. I was not too impressed with the story line and how the book ended. However, the reality of how the uranium mining in our backyard has affected our families is still very disturbing, and hits too close to home for me.
Loved this book and couldn't put it down. However, was really disappointed at the end - absolutely no resolution to any of the story lines in the book. It badly needs a sequel to tie up the myriad loose ends.