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Review: Bone Coulee, by Larry Warwaruk

It’s 1957 in the small town of Duncan, Sask. There’s a baseball game as part of the annual sports, festival and parade day. The game is won by a ninth inning, two men out, home run hit by an Indian brought in to beef up the winning team. It’s 1957 and members of the indigenous aboriginal population are called “Indians.”
Mac Chorniak, the losing pitcher, and his buddies decide to drink some beer, despite being underage. That works out well, so they manage to talk their way into some home brew. That doesn’t work out quite so well.
They get just drunk enough to feel confident about going out to the Indian encampment to look for girls. They find one and their drunken advances are quite rightly met with resistance from the girl’s older brother, who happens to be the home run hitter.
There is an altercation and the older brother is killed. It’s almost an accidental kind of thing, enough so that no charges are brought against the boys.
Fast forward 57 years and Mac Chorniak is an old farmer whose son is running the farm. Mac hangs out at the coffee shop, reads poetry and still feels guilty about what happened after the ball game, something no one ever, ever talks about. But someone is still thinking about it.
Roseanna Desjarlais has moved into town with her daughter Angela. Roseanna is the girl Mac was looking for 57 years ago. She knows who he is; he doesn’t remember her. She is looking for justice.
There is not a lot of what one might call action in Warwaruk’s novel, but the theme of justice is carefully threaded throughout. People go for coffee. They drop in on each other. They talk about the plans for the big dedication ceremony for the cairn at Bone Coulee, the site of an old buffalo jump. And Roseanna makes plans and inches her way closer to confronting Mac.
There is enough plot to keep things moving, and a great deal of excellent information about Saskatchewan. Warwaruk has a good eye and when he writes about the people and the land, it rings true. He even makes the politics interesting. And has good insight into the changing relationship between Indians and the white man.

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