A review of BLACK HILLS from the Washington Post (March 16, 2010) --
By Barbara Ehrenreich
Book World: Barbara Ehrenreich reviews 'Black Hills' by Dan Simmons
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
By Dan Simmons
Little, Brown. 487 pp. $25.99
The premise of Dan Simmons's new novel, "Black Hills," is not promising. A Lakota Sioux man named Paha Sapa ("Black Hills"), who is a paragon of Native American spirituality, goes to the Battle of the Little Big Horn and gets infected by the soul of Gen. Custer, thus becoming locked in uncomfortable interior intimacy with the celebrated Indian killer.
I know, I know -- and I would have tossed the book across the room if I had not already discovered Simmons through his 2007 novel, "The Terror." I almost gave up on that one in disgust when one of the principals turned out to be a monster with a taste for Arctic explorers. But I persisted, riveted for another 600 pages as the characters succumbed to cold, starvation, lead poisoning, cannibalism and attack by monster.
"The Terror" led to "Drood," Simmons's 2009 novel featuring Charles Dickens. The connection? Except for the monster, "The Terror" was a pretty straightforward attempt to reconstruct the fate of the lost Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage. When evidence of cannibalism among the doomed expedition members surfaced in 1854, the real-life Dickens had been moved to write an essay on the impossibility of civilized white Christians committing such an outrage. But as we discover in "Drood," the author of "Oliver Twist" was himself up to his ears in the morbid and the occult, which seemed to be running rampant in the sewers and slums of London.
Confused? Well, welcome to my mind, which for better or worse has been colonized by this insanely prolific, multi-genre writer. So when Paha Sapa turns out also to be channeling Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum in addition to Custer, and to be capable of visions that carry him from the Pleistocene to well into the 21st century, I barely flinched.
One of the attractions, for those who crave outdoor adventure, is that Simmons does physical distress better than anyone -- whether it's freezing to death in the Arctic, wrestling with laudanum addiction in 19th-century London, or hauling dynamite to blow up Mount Rushmore, that appalling symbol of white power.
Another big attraction is history. Jonathan Franzen once accused readers of historical fiction of multi-tasking -- "absorbing civics lessons or historical data" at the same time as enjoying the story -- and I freely admit to this crime against literature. "Black Hills" is so research-driven that you can almost imagine the author as an intricate, jerry-rigged device designed to suck in historical data at one end and spray out fictional narrative at the other. For example, Simmons's portrayal of Custer's nonagenarian widow seems to be derived directly from the biographical sources, and when, in "Black Hills," President Coolidge visits Mount Rushmore and is entranced by the trout fishing, I was not surprised to confirm that detail by Googling.
After the genocidal Indian wars that Paha Sapa has been unfortunate enough to witness, it's impossible not to root for the destruction of the presidents' rock faces on the mountainside. But for anyone expecting a paean to Native American nobility and spiritual superiority, "Black Hills" holds a surprising twist. Toward the very end, Custer's ghost, who by this time has had second thoughts about his historical role, points out to Paha Sapa that the Sioux themselves were a "ruthless, relentless invasion machine," who had beaten back the Arikara, Hidatsa, Mandan, Crows and Pawnee and that the Sioux were, furthermore, ecological vandals: "We could smell your garbage heaps from twenty miles away," says Custer's ghost. "The only thing that made you look and seem noble was the fact that you could keep moving, leaving your buffalo-run heaps of rotting carcasses and giant mounds of stinking garbage behind you."
A stolid, hardworking survivor of so many battles and massacres, Paha Sapa is himself a kind of node in history, bringing together Crazy Horse and Custer, white expansionism and red defiance, not to mention astronomy and native mythology, as well as reverberations from the incipient European Holocaust.
So what does Simmons need the supernatural for? Couldn't he be content writing carefully researched historical fiction in beautiful prose? My guess is that he's using his monsters and ghosts to impress on us that the historical novelist's business of bringing the dead to life involves a kind of magic.
Ehrenreich is the author, most recently, of "Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America."
Dan's Promotional Video for BLACK HILLS
Dan was asked by Borders Online to do a promotional video discussing his new book BLACK HILLS, to be released from Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Little, Brown, on Feb. 24, 2010. Versions of the 7-minute video will also appear on other sites.
The video was produced by videographers Jane Simmons and Robin Truesdale. Please click on the following link to see the BLACK HILLS promotional video:
Video Promo for BLACK HILLS
First Reviews in for BLACK HILLS
Publishers Weekly (Dec. 21, 2009) gives BLACK HILLS a starred review:
Black Hills Dan Simmons. Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur, $25.99 (496p) ISBN 978-0-316-00698-9
Hugo-winner Simmons, the author of such acclaimed space operas as Hyperion and Olympos as well as Drood, an intriguing riff on Dickens's unfinished last novel, displays the impressive breath of his imagination in this historical novel with a supernatural slant. In the author's retelling of Custer's last stand at the Little Big Horn in 1876, the dying general's ghost enters the body of Paha Sapa, a 10-year-old Sioux warrior who's able to see both the past and the future by touching people. The action leaps around in time to illustrate the arc of Sapa's life, but focuses on 1936, when, as a septuagenarian, he plots to blow up the monuments on Mount Rushmore in time for a visit to the site by FDR to atone for his role in constructing the stone likenesses. In his ability to create complex characters and pair them with suspenseful situations, Simmons stands almost unmatched among his contemporaries. 6-city author tour. (Feb.)
Stephen King's 10 Best Horror Novels of 2009 in Entertainment Weekly
Click here for PDF copy of this article
COMING SOON! TWO NEW RELEASES
Dan's new novel BLACK HILLS (Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Co.) is set for release on February 24, 2010. It is an epic tale of a Lakota Sioux named Paha Sapa ("Black Hills") whose life spans the decades of perhaps the greatest change in America's history. When Paha Sapa, a young Sioux warrior, "counts coup" on General George Armstrong Custer as Custer lies dying on the battlefield at the Little Bighorn, the legendary general's ghost enters him - and his voice will speak to him for decades to come.
Seamlessly weaving together the stories of Paha Sapa, Custer, and the American West, Dan Simmons depicts a tumultuous time in the history of both Native and white Americans. Haunted by Custer's ghost, and also by his ability to see into the memories and futures of legendary men like Sioux war-chief Crazy Horse, Paha Sapa's long life is driven by a dramatic vision he experienced as a boy in his people's sacred Black Hills.
In August of 1936, a dynamite worker on the massive Mount Rushmore project, Paha Sapa plans to silence his ghost forever and reclaim his people's legacy-on the very day FDR comes to Mount Rushmore to dedicate the Jefferson face.
A limited edition of BLACK HILLS will later be available from Subterranean Press. http://subterraneanpress.com/
Just released this November 2009 is the re-issued CARRION COMFORT (St. Martin's Press, trade paperback). In his blurb for the book, Stephen King called this novel "one of the three greatest horror novels of the 20th century. Simple as that.” First published in 1989 as a limited edition (Dark Harvest), CARRION COMFORT went on to win the Bram Stoker, the British Fantasy and the LOCUS awards. In 2009 Dan sold the movie rights to the Costa Gavras group of France and the movie is now in pre-production. http://us.macmillan.com/carrioncomfort
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST BOOKS OF 2009
-- Publishers Weekly, 11/2/2009
It's almost Thanksgiving, which is the beginning of the end of another year, and for us at PW that means our annual best books list. From more than 50,000 volumes, we valiantly set out to choose 100, and this year we've upped the ante with a top 10 list. A usually cooperative, agreeable bunch, we gave ourselves a reason to fight. We wanted the list to reflect what we thought were the top 10 books of the year with no other consideration. We expect you'll be surprised: there's a graphic novel, an adventure story, possibly the next Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a delicious biography that could bring Cheever back into the literary firmament. We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz. We gave fair chance to the “big” books of the year, but made them stand on their own two feet. It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male. There was kicking and screaming for a science fiction title. A literary ghost story came so close, it squeaked. There was almost a cookbook. Our fabulous long list smoothed ruffled feathers, but still we can't resist one honorable mention: Kevin Wilson's debut collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (Harper Perennial). With no regrets, we're ready for “Auld Lang Syne.” —Louisa Ermelino
Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
Reporter Jack McEvoy decides to go out with a bang, after he's laid off from the L.A. Times, in a nail-biting thriller that charts the demise of print journalism and shows why Connelly is one of today's top crime authors.
The Fate of Katherine Carr
Thomas H. Cook (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Edgar-winner Cook eloquently explores the often cathartic act of storytelling as George Gates, a former travel writer who after seven years still broods over his eight-year-old son's murder, looks into the unsolved disappearance of reclusive poet Katherine Carr 20 years earlier.
Pete Dexter (Grand Central)
Dexter's crowd-pleasing wiles are razor sharp in this long-awaited novel, the madcap and touching, assured and (ahem) dexterous story of a very Dexter-like Warren Spooner.
Gillian Flynn (Crown/Shaye Areheart)
Flynn tops her impressive debut, Sharp Objects, with a second crime thriller, centered on the slaying of a mother and two daughters in their Kansas farmhouse witnessed by the youngest, surviving daughter. It builds to a truth so twisted even the most astute readers won't see it coming.
The Man in the Wooden Hat
Jane Gardam (Europa)
Octogenarian Gardam bookends her much-lauded Old Filth with this witty and very British love story, taking on with aplomb loyalty, lust, ambition and longing as she excavates the holes in all of our hearts.
George Dawes Green (Grand Central)
Two con men hold a family hostage in rural Georgia in order to get half of their $318 million lottery winnings in this masterful, often comic novel of psychological suspense, Green's first since 1995's The Juror.
Paul Harding (Bellevue Literary Press)
George Crosby's deathbed reveries wander through memories of his own life as a boy and the lives of his father and grandfather, in this sumptuously written first novel that has been the darling of indie bookstores.
Zoë Heller (Harper)
Heller zeroes in on a liberal Jewish Greenwich Village family whose perfect lefty household falls into some hilarious setups as the dysfunctions pile up and eventually spill over when the patriarch's feet of clay are revealed. Hilarious, readable and atmospheric.
Yiyun Li (Random)
Wrenching and bleak are understatements for Li's magnificent gothic account of life in provincial 1979 China, centering on the execution of a counterrevolutionary. For all the morbid happenings—and there are many of them—the novel's immediately involving and impossible to walk away from.
How to Sell
Clancy Martin (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Martin's peerless debut novel about a naïve Canadian's crooked education in the jewelry business is horrifying and sad and very funny. Truth is always elusive; here, it's a dire liability, too.
New World Monkeys
Nancy Mauro (Crown/Shaye Areheart)
An outstandingly original debut that takes the ridiculous (a couple kill a wild pig on their move to the burbs that turns out to be their new town's beloved mascot) and renders it psychological in this sendup of academia, advertising, peeping toms and young marrieds.
The Last War
Ana Menendez (Harper)
A deeply moving story of a photojournalist in Istanbul waiting to join her war correspondent husband in Iraq. Her reluctance, suspicions and flashbacks of their time spent in Afghanistan create a dark background for the brilliance of her descriptions and observations.
Jo Nesbø (Harper)
Oslo Insp. Harry Hole discovers that a bank robbery is linked to the apparent suicide of a woman friend he hasn't seen in years in this lush crime saga from the Norwegian author.
Lark and Termite
Jayne Anne Phillips (Pantheon)
This elegant unraveling of parallel narratives—a grunt's Korean War tour of duty and the story of a family struggling through hard times nine years later—is at once intensely personal and loaded with themes of identity, duty and renewal, all the while maintaining a tight coil of suspense.
The Cry of the Sloth
Sam Savage (Coffee House)
The increasingly desperate letters dispatched by the editor of a middling literary magazine provide a glimpse into the soul of a minor writer ravaged by existential dread. As Savage slowly deflates the narrator's self-importance, he provides a caustic and supremely funny portrait of a man in decline.
Dan Simmons (Little, Brown)
Narrated by Wilkie Collins, this unsettling and complex thriller imagines a frightening sequence of events that prompts Collins's friend and fellow author, Charles Dickens, to write The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Dickens's last, uncompleted novel.
Cutting for Stone
Abraham Verghese (Knopf)
Verghese's move to fiction is sweeping and fabulous, starting in India, settling in Ethiopia and moving on to the U.S. in a magnificent epic that follows twin boys as they negotiate medical training, revolution, the search for their roots and their relationship with each other.
The Little Stranger
Sarah Waters (Riverhead)
A finalist for the Man Booker Prize, this subtle, creepy haunted house story chronicles the decline of an aristocratic county family after WWII as seen through the less than reliable eyes of a bachelor doctor, whose mother once served as a maid at the family's manor.
Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)
Whitehead's intellect, gorgeous prose, measured nostalgia and sheer storytelling prowess raises the bar for coming-of-age novels. It's as sublime as you're likely to read.
Once the Shore
Paul Yoon (Sarabande)
The eight stories in Yoon's remarkable collection revolve around the inhabitants of a small South Korean island rocked by Japanese occupation and later by the Korean War and are no less powerful for their quiet introspection. Yoon's delicate exploration of heartache places him high in the firmament of old souls.