A deep book needs plain language, and the beauty of Medicine Walk is the measured manner in which the events of this book are related. While his protagonist works his way through his walk with his father, the power of family history and feelings are made that much more intense by the unfettered tone of the prose. In the end, you feel like you were a fellow traveler.
The book begins when Frank’s father, Eldon calls for him. Frank is a young Indian boy who was abandoned by his father, leaving Frank with a local farmer named Bunky. Bunky is white, and does his best with Frank, but recognizes the difference in cultural heritage and how Bunky’s mentoring lacks Native American knowledge. But the faithful day comes when Eldon comes calling for his son. Bunky encourages Frank to find out what his father wants, despite the abandonment.
It turns out that Eldon is dying, and he asks Frank to take him on a days-long journey so he can die as a warrior. What follows is as much a journey as a meditation on family, life, history, and what it means to be a man. While they travel, Eldon fills in Frank on what he missed: Eldon’s history, his mother, the tragedy that forced Eldon away, and the details of his life, ruined by drink. The journey takes them through both the sparse back country and the past. Frank’s skills, learned at Bunky’s knee, overcome obstacle after obstacle as they approach what will be Eldon’s final resting place.
Author Richard Wagamese is no stranger to Native American issues, both current and past. What Eldon has had inflicted on him gets, heartbreakingly, passed through his son through tales of love, tragedy, and neglect. Frank’s quiet stoicism and steady competence point the way to a kind of reconciliation between father and son, past and future. The neat, blunt prose is Wagamese’s gift to the reader.