Thursday, November 06, 2014

Beverly Slapin's review of RABBIT STORIES by Kim Shuck

Shuck, Kim (Tsalagi, Sauk/Fox, Polish), Rabbit Stories. Poetic Matrix Press, 2013, high school-up

Rabbit (the Being) has awesome responsibilities. He weighs and measures leaves so they can exist. He sings to bring the flowers into bloom. He dances to turn the seasons. He cradles subatomic particles and powwow dancers in his sight—whispers, “beautiful, happy”—and they dance, dance, dance, dance. All these things (and more) he has been given to do, else the world—or at least this corner of the cosmos—will get bent. No small feats and no small responsibilities, those. Rabbit is also a mentor (in his magical way) to Rabbit Food, the human girl he’s named for a wild rose, the human girl he brings to maturity as a smart, loving, responsible, talented Indian woman; a quantum physicist who knows who she is and what she comes from. Under Rabbit’s auspices (and, of course, those of her Aunties and Grandmas), Rabbit Food is a “child of multiple cultures, of Tsalagi and Polish and fantasy and sci-fi, she knows that around any corner there may be a paradigm shift… (And) she will be prepared if stuck in an alternate reality.”

The two—(or three if you count the polyvalent reality of Robin and Fox)—trickster-mentor and quantum physicist, naturally acknowledge each other without actually speaking or touching. Since Rabbit Food was a child, it has never occurred to her to mention him to anyone. Rather, she tosses him a cookie now and then, or lets the cilantro stolen from the fridge go unnoticed, or hides a cashew where he will find it, and she “keeps learning the things she needs.” And Rabbit “loves Rabbit Food, loves her…with the completeness that only someone thoroughly self-absorbed can achieve, and only then for small moments.” 

The stories—of Rabbit Food’s lifetime as girl, young woman, new mother and mature artist, and, of course, ever the student of trickster-cum-life coach Rabbit—weave up, down, around and through. They’re brilliantly crafted and lovingly told, semi-autobiographical stories that take place in parallel worlds full of spirit and magic and wonder and grace; intertwined like the tight stitches of a Tsalagi double-woven basket.

Indian students will appreciate these stories for their many cultural and historical references, their nuances and word plays, their multiple layers of dream and memory, and their fast-paced, wise cracking humor—everything that makes Rabbit Stories Indian. They will also probably appreciate that the author did not, as non-Native authors often do with “Indian” material, turn the stories into mind-numbing ethnographic expositions. Students who are from outside the community may not “get” everything, but will appreciate the stories as well. I encourage teachers to allow these appealing stories to resonate with their students and not to ruin the experience by attempting to analyze or interpret them.

Rabbit Stories, as is Kim’s first book of poetry, Smuggling Cherokee, is amazing; and Kim—an accomplished artist and master storyteller, poet, and educator—is an international treasure. Not one eagle feather dropped here, no pickup dance necessary.

—Beverly Slapin

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