Book Review - Wingshooters
By Eleanor J. Bader
March 12, 2011
Submitted for posting to Portside by the author
By Nina Revoyr
By the age of nine, Michelle LeBeau has already taken more
than a few knocks. Her mom has disappeared - whereabouts
unknown - and her dad has unceremoniously dumped her with
his aging parents in tiny Deerhorn, Wisconsin and left town.
Michelle is Deerhorn's first biracial resident - half
Japanese, half white - and she is not allowed to forget it.
Her only friends are a loving spaniel and her grandparents,
a charismatic retiree named Charlie, and his dutiful wife,
Helen. At best, the kids in town are standoffish; at worst,
they're violent and mean, treating Michelle like an inferior
Perhaps that's why she turns to adults for friendship. From
her first days in Deerhorn, Michelle has gravitated toward
Charlie, a real man's man, more comfortable hunting,
fishing, and shooting the breeze than attending to the
emotional needs of a scared little girl. Yet somehow the two
bond and while both benefit from the liaison, Charlie makes
no bones about his belief that people should stick to their
"own kind." At the same time, his unconditional affection
for the child is clear to everyone.
Life in Deerhorn settles into a calm, though tense, stasis -
at least until Betty and Joe Garrett move to town, she to
work in a local clinic, he to fill in for a teacher on
maternity leave. The problem? The Garretts are African
Although the action of Wingshooters takes place in 1974,
Deerhorn seems untouched by either the civil rights or anti-
war movements. Residents are perplexed - and angered - by
the changes that have taken place in the body politic over
the last decade. Among the unsettling events: Legalized
abortion and LGBTQ Pride rallies in nearby Madison and
Milwaukee. They're further befuddled by media commentators
who posit people of color as the moral and intellectual
equivalent of whites.
To say that Deerhorn isn't ready for the Garretts is a gross
understatement and residents do everything in their power to
make the newcomers feel unwelcome. Even the Catholic priest
does his bit, preaching against integration and racial
It's ugly stuff. And it escalates when Joe Garrett
accidentally discovers bruises on one of his students.
Indeed, when a prime mover-and-shaker in Deerhorn -
Charlie's best friend Earl - comes under scrutiny for child
abuse, many of the town's most prominent denizens scurry to
defend him. What ensues can only be described as tragic, a
near-epic battle between good and evil.
Along the way, Revoyr addresses multiple themes, from
masculinity, to women's roles, to the meaning of loyalty.
They're concepts Revoyr has mined before - in The Age of
Dreaming and Southland - but never with such passion.
Wingshooters chronicles the events of one particularly
tumultuous year, but more than anything else, this is a
novel about love, a touching, emotionally-explosive
assessment of the relationship between one child and one
elder. A fresh take on the politics of family ties, it
eschews easy answers as it reveals the complex web binding
granddad and granddaughter.
Michelle's conclusion, articulated as an adult, is
insightful: "He taught me how to punch, how to block
incoming blows, how to throw rocks back with accuracy and
strength. These lessons made my life easier, and the irony
strikes me only now: it was my grandfather, the rural,
prejudiced white man... who taught me how to survive as a
child of color in America."
Wingshooters is a story with jagged edges that lets readers
decide if some sins - like racism - are simply too heinous
to ever be completely forgiven. It's a heartbreakingly
beautiful book by an astute political novelist. Read it with
tissues in hand.
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