Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sacred Clowns

It's funny how often the point of a book is so often not the plot. Sapphira and the Slave Girl can be read as a romantic triangle, but it is clearly about the morality of slavery. Sacred Clowns, by Tony Hillerman, is another one of these books. The plot is about some murders in Indian country. The background is about Navajo and Hopi country. But the point of the book is about feeling a sense of belonging in a close-knit group, and how feeling on the outside affects people. The plot, set primarily in a non-Hopi pueblo, brings a variety of people together: city Cheyenne, city Navajo, sheep-camp Navajo, Hopi, and pueblo. Every one of them feels out of place to various degrees, and much of the book is about how they deal with it.

Often the sense of being an outsider shows up in the question, "What did we miss?" The Cheyenne and the city Navajo don't understand what is so funny in a movie that the sheep-camp Navajos find hysterical. The Navajos have to work to understand the Hopi and pueblo sanctions about sharing religious information. And the plot itself hinges on the inability of outsiders to see or make sense of the same thing that insiders see; it isn't until the two investigators really put themselves in the place of the pueblo people and start asking the right questions, figure out what they missed, that they are able to solve the murders that have taken place.

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