Heavy, in every sense of the word, but worthy of its heft.
Summer 1876 - Battle of Little Big Horn. Paha Sapa, young Black Hills, is ten years old. He is at the Battle, not as a warrior, as he wants to be a holy man when he grows up, but he gets caught up in the moment and decides to run at an enemy as part of his coming of age or count coup. He touches an enemy soldier at the moment of his death. The enemy he touches his people call Long Hair, and is known to the rest of history as General George Armstrong Custer. The soul of General Custer is released and Paha Sapa believes the soul enters into his body, where he continues to exist for decades to come.
That same year, Paha Sapa goes into the sacred Black Hills on his vision quest, during which he has a dream that four great stone heads rise up out of the stone, and the death of his people's culture. He is told by the Six Grandfathers that it is his destiny to destroy the four heads in the stone, representative of four Wasicun (white men) representative of the destruction of the Natural Free Beings way of life. This stone mountain is also known as Mount Rushmore. Paha Sapa sees into the future for the first time, but not the last.
Between his tenth year and his final year, the book follows Paha Sapa through several major events in American History and his place in them. He rides Ferris's Great Wheel, he plays a part in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, goes to the Chicago World's Fair, lives through the 1930's Dust Bowl, runs from Crazy Horse, and finally ends up working as a powder man, the chief dynamite blaster, at Mount Rushmore. He can, in one act, on the day of FDR's visit to the South Dakota site, destroy Mount Rushmore, and reclaim his people's honor.
I have to be honest. I almost gave up on Black Hills when General Custer began spewing his pornographic memoirs about his time with his wife, Libby. I got through them as mere interruptions to Paha Sapa's greater story, which was suspenseful, interesting, and, dare I say, educational.
I expected something very different from Black Hills, since I first saw it in the bookstore in the Horror section. I wouldn't consider this novel as a tale of horror. Instead, I would classify it as historical fiction, with a touch of the supernatural. What I found most interesting is how all of these people in history truly do intersect at such a pivotal time in the American West. I love when authors take the mysteries of a historical figure's life and turn them into a page-turning story, but what Dan Simmons managed to do is take an osbcure historical figure and use him as the axis around which all these other famous people orbit.
Black Hills is not a light read, nor is it for the light-hearted. It's a heavy book, and time consuming, but one worth reading. It's scale intimidated me, so I put off reading it, but I am so glad that I did.