The Indian Lover
Garth Murphy, a Californian historian and songwriter, strikes a few sour notes in his first novel, The Indian Lover. Pablo Verdi is a mission-educated Indian who speaks a fistful of languages and walks easily among the diverse population of 1840s California. After a two-year trip to the east coast, Pablo returns home to find his ranch stolen by the corrupt Mexican governor. Pablo tries to live the old Indian way, but his spirit is too restless. Instead, he wanders among the ranchers, the tribes, and the Americans. What better way to observe his world as the U.S. battles Mexico, as power changes hands, as the gold rush brings waves of settlers?
If only Pablo were the primary narrator—the Indian Lover—of the title. That honor belongs to Bill Marshal, a young Yankee who deserts his whaling ship and follows Pablo into the wild. Though Bill has his own adventures—he falls in love with a fair senorita, then runs afoul of her brothers—he ends up somewhat haphazardly married to a member of the Cuperno tribe. Bill stays at Cupa, away from the action . . . and so does the reader.
This is a pity, for Mr. Murphy has many talents. He illuminates a complex society in flux; he delivers a strong sense of place; and he has written a fine depiction of Indian culture. The last fifty pages of the book are thrilling. If only, if only. This reviewer looks forward to his second novel.