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The Death of Bernadette Lefthand

Kirkus Reviews
“This powerful, sad, but ultimately beautiful story deserves to be back on the bookshelves of American readers with its innovative, organic use of Indigenous prose form and strong, lovely personalities.”
Gracie Lefthand is in mourning. Her beautiful, elegant sister, Bernadette, has been murdered, and Gracie and her father are left to raise Bernadette’s child—and tell her story—in this polyphonic Native American novel. Told in the first person by both Gracie, a 16-year-old Apache/Pueblo girl, and Starr Stubbs, a bored white model-turned-rock star’s wife who hired Bernadette, a traditional dancer and well-educated young woman, as a housekeeper, and occasionally in a poetic third-person narrative voice, Bernadette’s story takes place in the New Mexico town of Dulce. The novel moves back and forth in time, never losing the thread that moves us closer and closer to Bernadette’s brutal murder. The novel is filled with poetic detail, and both Starr and especially Gracie punch forward with their strong, unique voices. They tell not only Bernadette’s tragic story, but her husband’s, who is Diné/Navajo—and that of the man so jealous of their relationship that he’d pursue dark witchcraft to destroy it. This book was originally published in 1993, and although Querry’s work precedes the current trend in Native letters that has writers speaking to their own, or neighboring, Native nations (Querry is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, and his characters are from various Southwestern Nations), Querry has lived for years in the Southwest. His characters are complex and achingly human. He depicts traditional Diné ceremonies, and though this is also a departure, what he does depict is respectful and adds much to the richness of the story. It is often taboo for Diné to write or speak of certain traditions, and it’s awkward when someone white does. But for Querry, he is both outsider and insider. This powerful, sad, but ultimately beautiful story deserves to be back on the bookshelves of American readers with its innovative, organic use of Indigenous prose form and strong, lovely personalities.
- August 1, 2018  Visit Website
Publishers Weekly
"The innocence of Gracie's youth and her anguish in relating her sister's life story work like a magnet to pull the tale along."
Querry, a Choctaw, chooses Arizona, his present home, as the setting for this excellent first novel. It is a landscape peopled by Natives, where Navajo, Apache and Hopi reservations jostle up against one another, literally and figuratively. The book deals with the murder of its eponymous heroine. In the process it becomes a fine vignette of modern Indian existence, giving readers a genuinely felt view of the pow-wows, dances, rodeos, alcoholism, intertribal rivalry and poverty that are the facts of life for many Native Americans. At the beginning of the novel, Bernadette is found dead and her drunken husband, Anderson George, has disappeared. The story of their tumultuous union is told in flashback from the points of view of Gracie, Bernadette's sister, and Starr Stubbs, a white woman who knew her but may have been less than a friend. With his compelling storytelling, Querry leads the reader methodically and inexorably back in time (to witness the final moments of Bernadette's short life) and deeper into the darkness of the witchcraft that destroys both her and Anderson. The innocence of Gracie's youth and her anguish in relating her sister's life story work like a magnet to pull the tale along.
Library Journal
"This excellent debut by a promising new novelist should appeal to anyone interested in the Southwest and Native Americans."
Bernadette Lefthand got killed, "but it wasn't in no car wreck," and the police are looking for her Navajo husband. The story instantly pulls its reader into the events surrounding a young Pueblo Indian's bizarre and brutal murder. Set on the Navajo and Jicarilla reservations, this novel explores the effects that poverty, alcoholism, and witchcraft have on the communities. Gracie, Bernadette's younger sister, and Starr Stubbs, the white woman for whom Bernadette kept house, tell most of the story. The chapters flip-flop between the narrators' points of view, cleverly exposing the contrast between Indian and white perspectives and their cultural differences. This excellent debut by a promising new novelist should appeal to anyone interested in the Southwest and Native Americans.
Tony Hillerman
"The best novel of its type since Leslie Sitko's Ceremony. The Death Of Bernadette Lefthand should rank among the classics of American fiction."

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