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Go in Beauty by William Eastlake
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Go in Beauty (1956)

by William Eastlake

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Write what you know. Golden advice, and Eastlake devotes his first novel to these words, writing deeply of the white-red divide that’d banished the Navajo culture to the Checkerboard, as well as the role of the writer, of art, the relationship shared with the outside world, and, surprisingly, the land itself, devoid of culture except as a current morphological and ecological influence(—and I friggin’ love that about Eastlake). Unfortunately with Go in Beauty, Eastlake gave too much focus to world of the artist, which just…doesn’t mix well in the scheme of things. It helps stress the cultural dead-end meetings, but…I just can’t put my finger on why it seemed to hurt the novel’s impact, especially comparatively with the thematically-similar trilogy closer.

[N.B. This review includes images, and was formatted for my site, dendrobibliography -- located here.]

Go in Beauty. It’s the first story of the Bowman family, introducing brothers Alexander and George (Santi), close, white brothers who grew up amongst the Navajo, understanding them and their fragmented culture more than their own that tries so hard to impose itself on this shitty, leftover checkered parcel. Immediately, with Eastlake’s surreal flair and a Navajo prophecy, their relationship is torn apart by prophecy, by love—stolen—and Alexander’s sudden successful career as literary author all too remindful of Hemingway. He writes what he knows. The trials of the Navajo, of his own family, his rifting sibling relationship: His work is monumental, expounding the truth of the Checkerboard to the world outside. It brings attention for the first time to the real cowboys-and-Indians relationship to the imposing big-city America, shedding the John Wayne-ass, John Ford-ass bullshit.

Three successful books, three successful movies, his monumental truths bring gawkers and oil-hungry manipulators to Navajo country. Of course. (Of course.) Central to events, the brothers fight their personal demons, to get past the lovelorn burglary and reunite, and around this Alexander’s literary career begins to falter, unable to write of what he knows unless he goes where he can’t (home), and across the Checkerboard country, uranium-seeking megacorporations continue their history of swindling, a native World War vet returns traumatized—probably one of the novel’s most successful images—broken because, as a Navajo, he couldn’t figure out the meaning of surrender.

A fault of the novel’s lasting: The cast of Navajo characters is vast and eccentric, all unique and genuinely portrayed by Eastlake (my favorite probably being the outcasted intellectual, a quirky character torn between cultures and not entirely welcomed by either), but--you may've noticed their absence here--they’re never the main focus, it’s always the white Bowmans’ observance of both sides and their cultural clashings. [And I only realize later that maybe Eastlake didn't have the right to do otherwise.]

This review may come off as a little nebulous when it comes to plot, but, from my four experiences with Eastlake thus far, that’s the way it tends to go. The brothers’ tragedy is a backdrop for separated experiences and stories, the culture and the landscape, all of them worth checking out on the way to the novel’s violent and heart-wrenching (but prophesied, inevitable, expected) denouement.

[6] ( )
3 vote alaskayo | Feb 17, 2013 |
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