Nan DeVincent-Hayes, Ph.D             [ Back ]    [ Home  [ Next

The Ghost Dancer

Arline Chase’s The Ghost Dancer, published 2001 by E-booksontheNet in both electronic and print form is a read that’s not easily categorized. After having read it, one asks, “Is it a romance? A spiritual quest? A lesson in Native American culture?”

Through Chase’s versatile command of the language and mastery in description, the story pulses, with the protagonist, Christy Lawrence, trying to figure out her life after a lengthy illness from “a leaky appendix” that resulted in “infection that has spread agony throughout her body.” What Christy is looking for is undetermined by herself and others, but reading this dynamic period piece circa 1890 transcends readers not only back into time but also into the daily lives of each of the finely drawn characters. Chase manages to craft conflict with love on all levels, from the obvious male-female connection of the debutante Christy and the feral Blackfoot White native, Rowan Cameron (“Walks Alone”), to the sublime affection by Christy for her domineering godfather who sways power over all: The imprisoned Algonquin tribe; the ruthlessness of Whites against Native Americans; and all against the railroad saboteurs. Most charming about Chase’s literary fare is the blossoming love between two different people, with two different pasts, and two different cultures, all intermixed in a mystical, mythical subtext centering on the omnipotent ghost dance ritual that “was heavily documented and demonstrated at Wounded Knee.”

 We learn that the Christy and Rowan share “visions” prompted by Rowan’s strive to be a shaman to somehow rectify the injustices done to him and his young orphaned siblings. Christy is smitten by the renegade though she has no clue about the life of Rowan’s people. In a stunned moment she asks, “You mean those Indians ate the horses?” to which Walks Alone replies, “My people starve...the government promises food and goods but they never come.” Here we see Chase’s infusion of politics into the piece; thus, she covers all grounds as though The Ghost Dancer is but a metaphor for today’s ills. In the primitive Rowan (at one point Christy tells him, “This is a fork”), we see that he is everything to everyone: Hero and antihero, warrior and savior, lover and beloved. We also come to see a gentility in him that only a man swept off his feet can shower upon his cherished.

Though Christy can’t seem to help herself from falling for Rowan in the desolation of the barbaric wild west, neither can her fiancé–Alexander--help himself from falling for Elaine, Christy’s sister, among the elite of New York who reside in luxurious homes and possess all the accouterments. Rowan is so consumed with Christy’s honor and how her fiance has discredited her that he asks her after she has experienced a vision of a wildcat wandering into camp, “What is Alexander’s totem?” at which time he explains the correlation between animals appearing in dreams as “a vision as a gift from the spirit.” This works together to “unleash the [power and might] magic and spirit of the Ghost Dancers–a fierce tribal ritual that deflects malevolence.”

Chase is a seasoned, award-winning, Cambridge author who has finely honed her art to produce a winner. She offers, “My agent told me to write a simple little romance within 90 days; five years later I’ve completed it and without an agent, and without a vibrant western romance market; and without a place to slot it into.” It’s a thoroughly researched historical love story filled with the weight of politics, prejudice, and mystical spirituality. But the bottom line is that it is about two people who unite simply because they love.” Chase has captured this passion while giving us a history lesson on the Blackfoot and the notorious Jim Hill (“Hill’s Folly”) who becomes a billionaire purely because he believes in the railroad. Chase has enmeshed it all.

If you want a story that explodes with action on every page, leaves you biting your nails,  then this isn’t a read for you, but if you desire an account that richly and leisurely unfolds, relishing in the English language and toying with your emotions, you’ll enjoy The Ghost Dancer.

I give it a rating of seven mighty pens.

Nan DeVincent-Hayes, Ph.D. 

Copyright 2002 Nan Hayes