Science fiction and history mingle in this novel about a native American who travels from 1930s Mount Rushmore back into America’s past.
Though a worthy backdrop for the final chase scene in “North by Northwest” and the victim of unfriendly aliens in “Superman II,” Mount Rushmore looms larger in America’s cinema than in its cultural consciousness. The granite visages of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt adorn postcards and bumper stickers and draw millions to South Dakota’s Black Hills every year, but, unlike the National Mall, serve no purpose beyond patriotic landmarkship. In person, they seem small, insignificant, an artificial asterisk among majestic mountains. As a monument, Mount Rushmore’s just not that monumental.
Still, as anyone flying a Confederate flag 150 years after the Civil War’s conclusion knows, cultural gestures create controversy. In Black Hills, Dan Simmons plunges into the imbroglio that surrounds Mount Rushmore, a white sculpture paid for by a white government carved into Six Grandfathers, a mountain sacred to the Sioux. For the Howard Zinns still among us, history is clear: This misguided artwork celebrates Colonial domination of Indians and the eradication of indigenous American culture. Curiously, Simmons’s overlong book re-revises this revisionist history, grafting a native American ghost story onto American folklore in an epic mash-up that, if unsuccessful as a novel, offers a unique, if offensive, deconstruction of the weirdest bit of Americana east of Las Vegas.
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