The Red-Tailed Hawk
By Jack Dunn
This book starts out well. It tells the story of Diyin, an Apache holy man who escapes from the train carrying Geronimo and his band to imprisonment in Florida. Diyin follows a red-tailed hawk and finds the Collins family. He is taken in by them and treated well and respected. Diyin has one wish. When he dies, he wants a lock of his hair to be returned and buried in his homeland, because he knows he will never see it again in person. The Collins family promises to do this.
The novel is told in three parts and follows multiple generations of the Collins family. The young couple who take in Diyin, Michael and Sally, are poor and get by on earnings from his woodworking. However, a great opportunity comes up to join another man in a business in town and Michael agrees to go. Diyin goes with them. The business prospers and so does the family. I assume that Diyin’s presence helped them somehow in this success, but am not sure how. It was not directly referred to in the story. The character did not perform any ceremonies to assist them, but the red-tailed hawk does show up often.
Diyin also meets a man with one leg. This was foretold to him long ago. But, the relationship with that man doesn’t seem to lead to anything beyond a friendship for them both. Since it was foretold, I expected that more would have come out of that friendship. It’s fine that it didn’t. I was just expecting more from it as a reader. I was hoping that it would become a larger part of the plot.
The first part of the book was well done and I think that storyline has a lot of potential. The second parts follow succeeding generations of the family and rely less on telling of the connection to Diyin and his wish. The book goes on to tell of the family in the future, as far as the year 2062. Coincidentally, this is the next time Halley’s Comet is supposed to be visible. The second and third part of the book seemed to drag for me. It was mostly about the business success of the Collins family descendants and how they built up the business Michael started in the 1800’s.
The last parts of the book seemed to me to lack a focus. There was no main conflict to be resolved. There were no plot elements that moved the story along toward a particular resolution. I felt that the book should have focused on the original characters and Diyin’s relationship to them to be more effective. It lost a lot when the author took us into the future. The original premise was great and I think it could work very well as a stand-alone novel without the future Collinses being involved. I understand that Halley’s Comet was part of the reason to take the narrative so far into the future. However, those parts of the story just zoomed by in a more documentary fashion, detailing mostly the family’s business successes.
The archaeology student near the end would not likely have been sampling 200-year-old specimens in the manner that she and her companion did. Sure, it’s supposed to take place long into the future, but I don’t know of any universities that would approve that sort of experimentation with an unknown substance. It did gain them some insight, but did not seem to directly relate to the plot. It was an interesting way to introduce the history of the genocide of native peoples but the event didn’t move the plot forward much in my opinion. I think maybe having Diyin reflect on some of these instances would have been a more interesting way to bring these historical facts into the narrative. Plenty of them happened to the Apache people. Also, the fact that the cave had been submerged when the dam was built would have flooded and likely destroyed many of the artifacts they found inside, particularly the powders Diyin left there.
Overall, I loved the first part of the book, but was disappointed by the latter parts. As a reader, I wanted to see a larger conflict that the characters had to resolve. I wanted to see Diyin’s wishes fulfilled as he had requested. It was disappointing that this connection was lost and that subsequent generations of the family knew so little about him and about what had been promised to him. It seemed like a very simple request.
The idea for this story was great and the author certainly has plenty of talent. I hope that this story will be revisited at some point and maybe re-written a bit. He’s got some great story ideas here. They just need a bit of fleshing out to bring them to light. Keep up the good work.