Classics for the Canon: Reviews of Winter in the Blood and The Death of Jim Loneyreview
~  Dr. Dawn Karima


James Welch.  NY:Penguin,2008, 138 pages, paper, ISBN:978-0-14-310522-0


James Welch.  NY:Penguin, 2008, 158 pages, paper, ISBN:978-0-014-310518-3.

Classics.  For many readers, the mention of the word "classics" evokes images of exciting adventures and far-away places that are contained in the pages of well-revered books.  Other readers cringe when they hear the word "classics" since they remember dusty pages assigned by teachers and painfully read in place of playing outside or watching YouTube.

Still, the majority of "classics" that academic professionals include in the canon represent works primarily written by European authors that feature Western mindsets.  Yet, for Native Americans, the realm of "classics" includes writing by N. Scott Momaday, Joseph Bruchac, Laura Tohe, Geary Hobson and many other talented authors.  In addition to great authors such as D.L. Birchfield, Elizabeth Woody and Joy Harjo, James Welch remains one of the most skillful luminaries within the Native American canon.

THE DEATH OF JIM LONEY demonstrates the tremendous talent of this Gros Ventre/Blackfeet author.  James Welch describes the protagonist's attempts to find home and a place to belong in impressive psychological and emotional detail.  Jim Loney remains stranded between his dual ethnicities, his relationships with his sister and with his girlfriend, and his desire for inner peace amidst emotional angst.   

James Welch depicts this character's personal journey, flaws and failures in evocative language. Originally published in 1979, this novel features characters and situations that remain relevant to readers today.  Addiction, alienation, and anguish fill the heart of the main characters, yet James Welch manages to present these traits in terms that are accurate without descending into maudlin caricature. THE DEATH OF JIM LONEY recounts a tale of pain and loss in a gripping style.     

James Welch displays tremendous talent throughout the pages of WINTER IN THE BLOOD.  The main character attempts to survive life within the confines of the Fort Belknap Reservation, located in Montana.  Old enemies, historical grief and trauma, and a sense of hopeless entrapment blend into the aches of the narrator's mundane existence.

Each character, each scene, and each detail contribute to the tone of the novel which is one of searching and alienation.  A certain chill increases within the protagonist's psyche, as described by the title, WINTER IN THE BLOOD. This novel is truly a masterpiece that conveys its themes and tone through skillful wordsmithing by its writer. WINTER IN THE BLOOD and THE DEATH OF JIM LONEY have earned a place among the "classics" of literature.  Each novel shares insight into the lives of their main characters and offers glimpses into the places where they live and work.  James Welch has created enduring books that truly can be defined as "classics."