It's been three years since Virgil's sister was killed on her way to work when a driver swerved into her lane. Virgil stopped drinking because he's raising his nephew, Nathan, a fourteen-year-old who is now dealing with some of the same problems Virgil did in school. He's a teen picked on because he's a half-blood, not Indian enough. Other kids say Nathan's mother was drinking and that's why she was in a car accident. Nathan's learned how cruel other teens can be, and he makes one mistake. He overdoses on heroin, and lands in the hospital.
Now, Virgil's out for revenge, and it's personal. He teams up with his ex-girlfirend, Marie Short Bear. The two head to Denver looking for the men who are bringing drugs onto the reservation. Although Marie's father sent Virgil there, asking him to punish one man, Virgil is reluctant to go. What if Nathan needs him?
What if Nathan is arrested because pills are found in his locker at school? Suddenly, a fourteen-year-old is going to be tried as an adult for felonies, and, if guilty, he'll end up in federal prison. Virgil and Nathan have few choices except to cooperate with the police on a sting operation.
Actually, this is just a basic summary of the plot. There's so much meat to this book. It's an examination of the soul and spirit of a man. Who is Virgil Wounded Horse? Is he an enforcer, or is he something more to his nephew, to Marie, to the community? Can he become more than he's been in the past? Can he reclaim the positive aspects of his Native identity?
This is a powerful story of one man. But, it's also a revealing story of the life of the Lakota on the reservation, their struggles, their attempts to overcome the hands they were dealt. Weiden introduces Lakota stories and ceremonies. But, he's willing to incorporate the bad and the good. I had no idea there was a class system, with full-bloods looking down at those who are half-bloods. It's destructive in the book, and in society. Weiden uses Virgil and Nathan to show what can happen when boys are bullied in school, and in life.
David Heska Wanbli Weiden's Winter Counts is poetic and gritty, violent and beautiful at times. There is a violent confrontation, preceded by a Lakota ceremony and symbolism. It's a crime novel of contrast, all summarized in the warring spirit of one man, Virgil Wounded Horse. You really should read this one for yourself.
David Weiden's website is www.davidweiden.com
Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden. Ecco (HarperCollins), 2020. ISBN 9780062968944 (hardcover), 325p.
FTC Full Disclosure - I bought a copy of the book.