Ghost Dances: Proving Up on the Great Plains, by Josh Garrett-Davis. Little, Brown, 297 pp. 25.99.
Josh Garrett-Davis has a great personal story.
At two-months old, his parents traveled 300 miles west of their Aberdeen, South Dakota home to the Black Hills International Survival Gathering, the largest protest in South Dakota history. Garrett-Davis describes this as his “first political pilgrimage.”
For the first two years of his life, his parents owned Prairie Dog Records, a fusion of feminist folk anthems, progressive country songs, and drug paraphernalia.
My earliest memory is of a silver paper punch swinging from a piece of jute twine behind the counter of Prairie Dog Records on Main Street in Aberdeen. Records against one wall, the long counter facing them. A dusty glare comes through the front window, and everything is an early-’80s shade of brown, like the stained plywood shelves or the way things must have looked through the big amber-tinted glasses people wore then.
A few years later, when his parents divorced, his mother moved to Portland and discovered that she preferred the company of women. This was all during a time when such behavior was reason enough to be evicted from an apartment, or even to lose custody of child.
Garrett-Davis’s story could have made a great book. That is, had he focused on his own experience. Instead, Ghost Dances is a history of the area where he grew up, bogged down by extensive, exhaustive detail.
Garrett-Davis, who lives currently in Philadelphia, writes Ghost Dances the way an entitled individual would write a book: words expected to be read. Whether the story is engaging does not matter. He has written a book, and that alone is an accomplishment.
I’m not saying that writing a book is not an accomplishment, I know full well how much work goes into a large manuscript. But a book should not be written for the sake of the book. Instead, a book should be written for the sake of the story told.
Ghost Dances has an engaging story, hidden within. What surrounds the interesting points, however, are words that are better off in a classroom textbook.