The First Dance
Western writer Richard S. Wheeler gives us the latest novel in his Barnaby Skye series, The First Dance, which deals with border conflicts in Montana in the 1880s. Barnaby’s son Dirk, half English and half Shoshone, is abandoned on his wedding day by his bride, the enigmatic Métis girl, Therese. Crushed and mystified by his wife’s rejection, Dirk returns to his job as a civilian translator with the U.S. Army. He finds himself in the unenviable position of having to participate in driving his wife’s people, the Métis, who are a tribe of mixed French Canadian and Native American heritage, back over the border into Canada, where they have already suffered persecution. When his commanding officer sinks to unconscionable acts, Dirk objects and loses his livelihood. He decides to help the Métis, many of whom are starving and freezing in the wilderness with their families.
In the course of his adventures, he is befriended by Pap Reilly, an Irish hog farmer with a shady past who gives shelter to the beleaguered immigrants. In the meantime, Dirk encounters his wife, Therese, who claims to have had a vision of St. Teresa of Avila and is determined to build a church for the Métis. Still reeling from Therese’s desertion, Dirk dedicates himself to her cause nevertheless and protects her from the hostile locals until his psychological “dance” with her reaches its climax.
Written with both tender pathos and blunt insights, Wheeler plumbs the souls of his characters even as he captures the harshness and majesty of the Montana landscapes. Filled with humor, tears, and intriguing historical detail, it is impossible to go away from the book without having learned a thing or two about the West, and about human nature as well.