Sunday, August 14, 2022

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was first published in 1968. It's centered around Abel, a young Native American who returns to New Mexico from serving in the war in 1945. But he is no longer the young man he once was. 
"Abel walked into the canyon. His return to town had been a failure, for all his looking forward. He had tried in the days that followed to speak to his grandfather, but he could not say the things he wanted; he had tried to pray, to sing, to enter into the old rhythm of the tongue, but he was no longer attuned to it."
Things get worse. In 1952 he ends up in Los Angeles, just out of prison, still lost, and still drinking too much. 

Momaday's writing is very descriptive and poetic, though not always straightforward. There are jumps in time and narrative voice that I found confusing in places; there's also a dream-like, surreal quality to his slowly unfolding narrative that I didn't love. It made it hard to connect to Abel. In fact, over half of the novel isn't even told from his point of view. The author gives the reader glimpses from his past, and one memory from his time in the war, and a few scenes with him in Los Angeles, but the biggest part of his story is related by his roommate, Ben. It's a unique way to tell a story but one that didn't quite work for me. 

Abel's story is very sad, and I had a lot of sympathy for him. And I thought this novel was interesting. But I didn't love it. Still, I'm not sorry I read it. Especially because it counts as my "Classic by a BIPOC Author" for Karen's Back to the Classics Challenge. 

Happy Reading!

For a much better review of this book, check out Kathy's at Reading Matters; she's the one who first made me aware of this classic novel. 

 


50 comments:

  1. This is a new one to me but maybe not my kind of thing. Well done you for sticking with it as I know it can be very tempting to dnf something you're not really connecting with.

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    1. If I didn't need it for one of my classic's categories I might not have finished it. But the second half was better than the first, so I'm glad I did.

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  2. This sounds like an interesting book but it's always a problem when you can't connect to the characters. I don't think I would like this writing style either.

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    1. I've never been a huge fan of surrealism or of stream of consciousness, and this had some of both in it.

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  3. Sounds like a good story overall but, perhaps too sad/dark for me. Glad you shared with us.

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    1. It is very sad, but there was a bit of hope at the end for Abel. So that helped.

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  4. Hi Lark, I read the novel last year for the Back to the Classics Challenge. Normally poetic novels don't work for me but here in House of Dawn it did. There are some really well done passages like the eagles in flight although that was also quite violent. Agree we needed more of Abel's perspective in the story. He is seen throughout the book through the eyes of others but what he feels remains a mystery.

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    1. It was your review of this book last year that made me pick it for my BIPOC classic this year. And there are some beautiful passages in it! I just wanted more of Abel's POV.

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  5. I've never read any of Momaday's books, a lack in my reading history. I mean to rectify that at some point.

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    1. This is the first book by him I've ever read. And even though I didn't connect with the story, I admired his writing.

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  6. This does sound like a really interesting read, though I can understand how the narration style could be an issue.

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    1. It was confusing at times, and hard to connect with.

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  7. A writing style like that can really affect how we experience a book, but it sounds interesting nonetheless!

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    1. It is a very interesting story and brings out a lot of things about Native American culture and PTSD in soldiers.

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  8. I've never heard of this one but really enjoyed your review. Sounds sad but like a story that needed to be told.

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  9. I haven't read it but I don't read sad tales right now. Maybe sometime in the future.

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    1. Totally get it! I can't take a lot of sadness or heartbreak in books right now either.

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  10. It does sound like a heartbreaking story. I"m glad that you enjoyed it overall and are happy that you read it.

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    1. I am glad I read it. And it's another classic checked off my list!

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  11. Too bad the writing style kept you at a distance and the second hand story from the roommate felt off. His story does sound sad with how war changed it all for him.

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    1. The writing style is 'artistic', but doesn't make you love the characters. But Abel's story was very sad.

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  12. This sounds interesting and heartbreaking but I'm not sure the narration style would really work for me either.

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  13. Good you tried the book even though it wasn't your best read.

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    1. I am glad I tried it; and even happier I managed to finish it. :)

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  14. Hope you’re doing well. Regine
    www.rsrue.blogspot.com

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  15. Sorry it wasn't the best read.

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    1. It was interesting, but I didn't love it.

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  16. Sorry this one did not work for you the way you hoped. I too would have problems with the issues you highlighted.

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    1. I like it best when I can connect with the characters in a book, and that didn't happen too well in this one. Even though I did like Abel.

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  17. I'd really wanted to participate in Back to the Classics challenge, and then, well, the best laid plans and all that. House Made of Dawn -- I'd never heard of this one before. Considering the subject matter, I can imagine it was pretty painful. Thanks for talking about it here.

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    1. Maybe you can do the Back to the Classics challenge next year if she does it again. It's a fun one. :)

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  18. I'm glad to hear about this novel. It's been around a long time and I always wondered what it was about. Too bad the telling of the story wasn't better.

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    1. He writes well, it's just the way he writes didn't quite work for me. You might not have the same problem with it. :)

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  19. For some reason (the brain makes some unusual connections sometimes), your review reminded me that, sometime in this lifetime, I want to read Ruth Beebe Hill's Hanta Yo. It came out not too long after Alex Haley's Roots and was compared to it as a sort of Native American version. What I remember most strongly is that my mother read it and really liked it-- so much so that her reaction remains with me to this day.

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    1. I've never even heard of Hanta Yo, but it sounds like a very interesting book.

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  20. I think that I would be confused reading this one.

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    1. There were times when I felt a little lost in the narrative.

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  21. Sorry to hear it wasn't the best read. I don't think I've ever read one of his books.

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    1. I think he's more known for his poetry, although this novel did win the Pulitzer Prize. so what do I know? ;D

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  22. I read this years ago. I don't remember it all that well (so this helped!) but I remember being impressed, though (I think) I thought the prose overly murky and poetic.

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    1. Momaday paints quite a picture of Native American culture and life back then, I just didn't connect with his characters. And I didn't love the jumps in time and POV.

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  23. I like this as a good book to read to learn more about Native American culture, and I could certainly do with more reading like that. But I am with Mary above, I am not reading sad books right now if I can avoid it.

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    1. Abel's story is sad through most of the book, but there is hope at the end, which was good. But I get what you're saying; I'm not up for reading any sad books right now either.

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  24. Nice that you got to check off another one in your challenge. Sorry to hear it wasn't more enjoyable. Onto the next one!

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    1. On to the next one is right! Hopefully it'll be a little bit more my speed. :D

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  25. Sounds interesting but perhaps not the type of books I'd enjoy. Glad you read this one, though.

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    1. I didn't love it, but I am glad I read it. And there are things about it that I do appreciate in retrospect.

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