Ride it out: Stick with White Buffalo

The trick to reading Peter Skinner’s debut novel, White Buffalo, is not to put it down. This is a book with a powerful pulse and a disdain for traditional storytelling. Once you enter its flow, it is monumentally satisfying; once you relegate it to the nightstand, its magic settles, separating into awkward layers of metaphor and digression. It’s a book that doesn’t allow for “coming up for air.”
Skinner’s story is the satisfying synthesis of two decades worth of poetry– 20 years of isolated inspirations that came out of the crucible as a semi-autobiographical story of conscience and self-discovery. The scattered roots of the story are not apparent in the reading, however, and its characters are as seamless as they are self-contained.
The protagonist, Jack Williston, returns home after a long stay in Europe to settle his family estate, which, because it encompasses two-thirds of Washington State and all the struggling communities within, is no mundane task.
He must come to terms with his family’s legacy and responsibilities while finding his own voice and the love of his life. All this while slumming in a deserted Sears department store.
Joining Jack on his adventures with government agencies, hallucinogenic products, and a strong-and-silent-style inner quest is Fast Eddy Rainwater. Fast Eddy is a visionary, a Flathead Indian, and Jack’s earliest childhood friend.
Lorraine springs from a loving genesis of Denny’s and Airstreams. She’s Botticelli’s answer to trailer-trash and a truly old soul. It doesn’t take long for her to cross paths with Jack and Fast Eddy, and the rest is history of the most spiritual, holistic sort.
The themes of White Buffalo are familiar: respect for the land, respect for man, hope from despair, justice from truth. But Skinner deftly evades cliché. The brooding Jack is downright smart in chronicling his genealogy, which includes a count who commits suicide by tying a clock around his neck.
The stealth-sidekick, Fast Eddy, proves to be a gourmand with a flair for interior decorating. The lovely Lorraine, despite her tendency towards heaving breasts, open lips, and heavy eyelids, sports spiky black hair under her work-wig ponytail.
A lot gets accomplished in White Buffalo’s mere 100+ pages. Not only do several people experience personal transformations, but the earth itself undergoes something of a resurrection (or at least a freak growth spurt). Skinner’s distracted writing style may throw you at points, but it’s best to persevere, as it’s not easy getting back in the saddle once you hop off White Buffalo.

Peter Skinner reads from White Buffalo May 22 at 7pm. Barnes & Noble, Barracks Road Shopping Center. 984-0461.

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