Books

Award-winning 'Walking the Rez Road' 20th Anniversary Edition Still Haunts

At times humorous but also permeated with sadness, Walking the Rez Road illuminates those who have inherited generations of institutionalized oppression while adding their own layers of pain and dejection.

Returning to the Fond du Lac Reservation from the Vietnam War, the character Luke Warmwater finds poverty, abuse, and mass unemployment. Warmwater attempts to negotiate the grievous living conditions with the painful emotional and physical affects of war. This 20th anniversary edition of Walking the Rez Road reprints Jim Northrup's short stories and poems with the addition of selected newspaper columns, Ojibwe poems, and the play Shinnob Jep. The characters and community are fictionalized yet are penned by an unrepentant insider who creates a sense of realness. At times humorous but also permeated with sadness, Walking the Rez Road illuminates individuals who have inherited generations of institutionalized oppression while adding their own layers of pain and dejection.



Walking the Rez Road (20th Anniv. Ed.)

Jim Northrup

(Fulcrum)

July 2013

The alienation a veteran feels when returning home from war is a consistent theme in Northrup's prose and poetry. Warmwater shows readers that alienation doesn't manifest itself in a single form but rather he "felt disconnected from all the things that made him happy" (16). Warmwater seeks treatment for his PTSD and finds solace by participating in traditional Ojibwe activities. Here Northrup sprinkles Warmwater's emotional and cultural devastation with moments of hope and humor.

The juxtaposition between contemporary and traditional culture is evident in Walking the Rez Road. A particularly strong example demonstrates how closely these two cultures coexist. For example when the character Lug leaves the powwow where he watched his sister dance, he then gets into his car and hears "the Animals singing 'Sky Pilot'" (18). As a subtext, this song demonstrates the constant struggle to balance the modern and traditional with the ubiquity of war and the lasting memory of killing.

In the poem "wanna be [sic]", Northrup casts the representations of war in popular culture as frivolous. Without first hand experience there is no authentic way to convey the horrors of organized violence. In this poem, Northrup takes offense with an unnamed character who appropriates war stories after seeing a movie. Northrup realizes this because the unnamed character "doesn't have the eyes" (38) of someone who has endured violence and is living with death's aftermath. He ends the poem with the realization "nice try fella, don't steal my war" (38). The author makes a strong point here that the glorification of war and violence in our culture has run amok. Popular culture has been careless with telling war stories and has reiterated a non-authentic narrative glamorizing war.

Likewise, Native American culture has been romanticized and monetized. In the poem "1854-1988" Northrup demonstrates capitalism's insidious control of traditional culture and "they're already looking down/the trail for the next chunk of treaty cash" (124). Here Northrup demonstrates a startling contrast between those who listen when "money talks, whispers, threatens/ and finally seduces" (124) to those who are wallowing in the Rez's poverty.

Warmwater embodies how multiple forms of oppression concurrently denigrate an individual. First, Warmwater must contend with the reservation's dire poverty. At one point he sells his blood for money, remembers sending his military paychecks home so his family could pump water, or "when someone opened the refrigerator, the gas line would freeze" (87). To Northrup's characters this poverty is home but also the focal point for a "lifetime of sad" (68).

The second form of oppression outlines the terrible treatment of veterans who are chronically suffering from PTSD. Northrup adroitly asks "how about a memorial/ for those who made it/ through the war/ but still died/ before their time" (9). Northrup's characters sought treatment and visited VA hospitals but still struggle with the memories and flashbacks. Accordingly "the shooting is over in five seconds/ the shakes are over in a half hour/ the memories are over never" (15). Without a doubt, American society is constantly grappling with how to properly support its veterans. However, Northrup demonstrates the support systems are inadequate. These systems are far less effective for veterans who are surrounded by poverty and completely disenfranchised.

Walking the Rez Road was the deserving winner of the Midwest Book Achievement Award, the Minnesota Book Award, and the Northeastern Minnesota Book Award. Northrup blends devastation with humor ultimately showcasing the power of tradition, community, and family. The prose and poetry are thought-provoking and lyrical. Northrup passed away in 2016 but his text leaves a lasting impression on the reader.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.