Frank Waters is perhaps best known for his books on Hopi and Navajo ceremonialism, "The Woman at Otowi Crossing" (the best novel yet written on the science and mysticism surrounding the making of the atomic bomb), and "The Man Who Killed the Deer," a classic account of Indian maturation set against the pueblo tribalism and town politics of Taos.
Over a long and illustrious writing career, Waters has established himself as one of the premier Southwestern writers--squabbles about geographical and aesthetic boundaries of regionalism notwithstanding. Among non-Native Americans writing about the Native American experience and what it might and might not mean for Americans generally, Waters always writes with great credibility and empathy. Invariably, he succeeds in convincing us that ritual, spirit of place and reverence for the forces of life, death and change are--when noticed--even more mysterious now in the face of the puzzlements of modern civilization.
Now, at age 85, and after a hiatus of 20 years, Waters offers "Flight From Fiesta," one more attempt to make us sit up and take notice of what the Native American experience might mean as an escape from the trivial and foolhardy revelries of the "fiesta" of modern materialism.
On the surface, this is a disarmingly simple book that reads like fiction best suited for adolescents. Admittedly, Westerns--regardless of sub-type--all seem to have an adolescent naivete about them, especially in the high-tec '80s. Not only in his characters but in his plot Waters seems, on the surface of things, predictable and formulaic: During the 1950s, while visiting Santa Fe during fiesta, an at once indulged and neglected child named Elsie Wilbur--accompanied by her Yuppie-like mother, Honey, and her mother's abusive lover, Freddie--meets an old drunken Tewa Pueblo Indian, Innocencio, who is selling his family's hand-crafted pottery on the plaza. Elsie breaks the old man's pottery, refuses to pay for it and adds insult to injury by ridiculing him.