Thursday, October 2, 2008

Paper Delivery: LeAnne Howe, Miko Kings

IN HONOR OF THE arrival of the MLB playoffs, the new Paper Delivery for October is the best baseball novel I've read in years: LeAnne Howe's Miko Kings.

Using letters, photographs, diary entries, film stills, time-travel, and veiled autobiography, Howe deploys a postmodern narrativity to make a provocative but compelling assertion: Indians invented baseball. The novel is too complicated, too layered, to capsulize easily here, but suffice it to say that Howe creates frames within frames, stories upon stories, rendered through many voices over many eras.

One segment of the novel tells the intertwined stories of Lena Coulter, a Choctaw writer, and Ezol Day, a progressive, artistic Choctaw postal clerk who lived in the early 1900s and who travels across the decades to visit Lena. When she was alive, Ezol was in love with a star player on the Miko Kings--an actual Choctaw baseball team that dominated the Indian leagues and even defeated the team of the Seventh Cavalrymen from Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

The story of Choctaw baseball, its connection to Choctaw culture, and American baseball’s debt to Choctaw “base and ball” is the subject of the second strain of Howe’s novel. Ezol appears in both sections, connecting both history and sport. She also functions as the moral compass of the novel. She not only understands the tribal impulses of baseball, she also foresees how Choctaw baseball will influence how the tribe moves forward into the future.

The future, at least for Lena, can't shake the shackles of the past. Lena, who has traveled the world but never felt centered, longs for information about her family and the Choctaw, a substantive root fastening her to a people and place. And, as a writer, she wants her own storying to intersect with Choctaw storying, but at present, all aspects feel fragmented. Near the novel’s end, Lena asks Ezol the reason for her groundlessness, to which Ezol responds: “Because when your mother died, you had no other real ancestors to turn to . . . I may not have been your blood grandmother—but I should have been. And I have always been with you in spirit. That is the true story I came to tell” (221).

As it turns out, it is Lena’s ability in the present to write about the past’s line through to the future that brings everything into right relation with each other. “As you know,” Ezol tells Lena, “I continually occupy myself with patterns and questions. The interpretation of time, the speed of love, the velocity of a meteor shower, or the time it takes for a small white ball to fly from the pitcher’s hand across home plate. These things still interest me. As you have always interested me, my girl” (221). Home plate is a double metaphor here. A place of arrival and completion that is both inside and outside of time, rooted to a place but with connections across all space.

Fans of baseball, fans of Native American fiction, and fans of time-traveling sci-fi will all find something in this novel to appreciate. Furthermore, aficionados of postmodern fiction's matrix-like structures, plurality of voices and non-linear narratives will also dig Howe's collage-like text. It's also just fun to de-bunk the myth of America by de-bunking the myth of America's Game. Somehow, through an invention of baseball, Indians engage in an inversion of conquest.

Would anything make Manny Ramirez happier?

9 comments:

  1. Indians invented baseball??? I near spit out my latte when I read that. What's next? Indians invented democracy.

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    1. Invented Democracy?Sure did,Howdja' miss it?

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  2. It's a good read, Anon . . .Indians invented Lattes, too . . .but not spitting . . .

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  3. "What's next? Indians invented democracy."

    The ideals that the founding fathers used when writing the constitution may have come from some of the Native tribes that were in the area at the time. So, yes, they may have invented our democracy as well.

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  4. wow, what an insightful persective, this sounds both interesting and enjoyable. thanks for the recommendation!

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  5. There is ample evidence that certain aspects of American Indian governance did affect how early thinkers conceived specific details of American ideology. Most scholars agree, for example, that "caucus" is derived from the Algonquin word for "council." Similarly, the notion of confederacies was also borrowed from Indian tribes.

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  6. Anonymous,
    You seriously need to take a History class; an American Indian History class. The others who posted on here are correct; Native Americans did indeed invent baseball, as well as, provide the framework for our democracy. I know it is shocking to think that us American indians were actually civilized and self governed long before Europeans arrived.

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  7. When Christopher Columbus arrived in Cuba he saw the Carib Indians playing a game that resembles the game of baseball of today.

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  8. Native Americans deserve more praise than we give them! Indians were here first, they invented everything! We should praise them. Thank you LeAnne Howe!

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