Linda Hogan is a Chickasaw poet, novelist and essayist, a professor at the University of Colorado. She has won numerous awards including a Guggenheim Fellowship, an NEA grant and an American Book Award. She has published three books of poetry, four of fiction, a play and a work of non-fiction. She was born in 1947 and is currently the Writer in Residence for the Chickasaw Nation. Power was her second novel.
Seldom do I read a novel of such depth and strength. Linda Hogan, following the vision quest and passage into adulthood of a sixteen year old Taiga Indian girl is both chilling and revelatory. The unique style and craft that Ms. Hogan employs in this work of fiction was humbling to study.
The story is told entirely from the viewpoint of the protagonist using mostly her thoughts with very sparse dialog. She begins with a chapter of broad introduction covering mostly the girl, Omishto, and her totem and co-journeyer throughout the novel, the Florida Panther, Sisa, sacred animal of the Taiga tribe.
This is the place where clouds are born and I am floating. Last night before I fell asleep in my boat, the earth was bleeding. The red light that began at the edge of the earth moved upward until all of the sky was red. Mama calls it stormlight, and this morning as I sit back in the boat, it looks like she is right; a storm is coming in.
She goes on to give us a further hint of this girl’s unique sight.
You would think that the clouds would make a sound moving that quick and full, but it is quiet this morning and the sky is no longer red; it is nearly green now with the first hint of the coming storm.
Though she explains that “the earth was bleeding” means that the sky was red, we are left with the foreboding that reaches beyond the coming storm (even though that is traditionally a pretty ominous portent). She says, this is the place were clouds are born. Does she mean the sky? The swamp her boat is in? The edge of the horizon where the land meets the sea? Or is Hogan setting us up with a bigger picture?
After reading the novel, I know that Omishto is about to embark on the hardest journey of her short life. That she has an unsure home life, that she is a full blooded member of a dwindling tribe with her feet, so far, pretty firmly rooted in the white world. She is definitely floating. Could the clouds represent objects to obscure the truth? Or is she referring to the clouds as agents of change?
And the earth bleeding. That is surely a reference to the pain she feels at the destruction of the natural world. It is not hard in this time of oil spills and out of control climate change to feel that the world is bleeding. When do we feel more attuned to the injustice of the earth than when we are teenagers? But Omishto, one who watches, is not just a teenager. She will represent the transition from innocence to awareness as this story progresses.
In Ms. Hogan’s easy control, we follow Omishto’s thoughts as they drift from the visions of the natural world around her to her memories and her thinking process.
But then as I near the water’s edge, a cold chill passes over my back. I feel watched. It’s not the snake watching, I can tell. I feel it in my body, something not right, eyes watching from the trees, something stirring about. I feel it in my stomach, an animal feeling, something – or someone – dangerous.
We are led to believe this is the Panther. She does not see it, Sisa, until halfway through the book. By the end, we are sure that is who it was – but by then the girl and the panther can look openly at one another. This is the establishment of the panther as a character and the girl’s relationship to it. In the beginning she is afraid, unsure, but she has illustrated to us her potential. She is not only aware that she is being watched, she knows it is not the snake, she knows it is something animal, someone dangerous.
This first chapter is for introductions. Hogan briefly touches on the girl’s Aunt Ama, her sister, Donna and her mama. But before we finish, we turn back to the girl.
My sister said that when I was four days old my mother was gutting a chicken and pointed at me with the knife and said, “This one’s going to give us trouble. Look at her eyes…They’re barely open, she’s only a baby and she’s watching everything.”
That’s why my father named me Omishto, one who watches, but it’s true, I watch everything and see deep into what’s around me. I have the strong wind inside me. They used to call it the spirit, the breath, and the name we have for it is Oni. I see lives and spirits in the woods and I see the growing things. But I can’t see what’s watching me from the trees.
It is telling that her mama points at her with a knife while gutting a chicken and makes this observation – entrails have been used in predictions for as long as we have eaten meat.
The beginning is a spot of rare calm for this story. Omishto is swept through the rest of the book like a leaf on the tide. In the end she stands proudly on solid ground. But by then her eyes are completely open.