Monday, February 20, 2012

COFFIN MAN by James D. Doss


To enjoy books like James D. Doss’ Coffin Man you have to enjoy slow, meandering stories.

Sometimes I wonder if Doss’ storytelling style is not what Daisy Perika’s storytelling style would be. Daisy is Charlie Moon’s aunt. According to this story, she is now the oldest living Southern Ute tribal elder. Charlie Moon is a well-off rancher whose best friend is Sheriff Scott Parris.

So don’t expect this book to be slam-bang reading. But given that, I enjoyed the story.

Someone kills the cemetery caretaker. Charlie ties the crime to a runaway pregnant teenager and her mother. And all of this leads Daisy and her great-niece Sarah Frank to the cemetery and to the Coffin Man.

Sarah meets her first ghost.

Sarah will be the one to inherit Aunt Daisy’s ability to commune with spirits. When that first happens for her, she doesn’t know she’s talking with a ghost. It is not time yet for Sarah. Daisy takes her power back from Sarah, knowing that the time will come when Daisy crosses the river. Sarah will become the shaman then.

Some people compare James Doss’ writing to Tony Hillerman’s

For me, they don’t have much in common. I love the Hillerman stories, but Hillerman was a well-known journalist before he took up fiction. He writes like someone trained to write clearly.

As I see it, Doss truly is trying to replicate a Native American storytelling style. So a lot of us non-Natives have mixed feelings about him. Look him up on Amazon and you get some five-star ratings, but you get some one- and two-star ratings too. Some people say he is the worst writer they have ever read.

I see it differently. His is a different storytelling style. He has grown into it as the books have gone on. He wrote more clearly in the early books.

Native storytellers who tell folk stories often string the stories out, take whatever tangent happens to occur to them at the time. As they tell the story, they address the audience. They jump from one part of the story to another, sometimes with great gaps in between. They give little asides.

That’s what I see Doss doing.

When I caught on, I came to like it. Not that I didn’t get bored sometimes. Not that I didn’t always understand that the story is under the storyteller’s control, not mine. What I want is not the issue.

But if you can get into this different kind of storytelling, you might well like James D. Doss.

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