Book Review: The Death of Jim Loney by James Welch

The Death of Jim Loney by James Welch
Published by Penguin Books on 1987
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Native American
Pages: 179
Format: Paperback

Jim Loney is a half-breed, of white and Indian parentage. He is thirty-five years old and lives in a small Montana town. He is gently going mad. Estranged from both his community and his Indian roots, Loney drinks cheap wine alone at night, trying to discover the origins of his despair. His dreams are filled with messages of doom, and they haunt his waking hours, chaining his very soul.

My Review:

It’s difficult to talk about books one reads when they correspond to the area of research that individual is involved heavily in.  I picked up The Death of Jim Loney by James Welch on the recommendation of a mentor of mine and I knew, going in, that there would be a lot of times I would want to stop reading and start really diving into what I was reading and analyzing it and driving myself crazy with new research thoughts and ideas.  But, about a chapter in, I put that part of my mind back into a box and I decided that I would give Jim Loney my full attention: as someone who was reading the book to listen to the story of this character.

This is not a happy-go-lucky, feel-good story.  Jim Loney is a man who struggles with identification, having a Native mother and a White father.  His struggles with identity bleed into all aspects of his life, and even though he recognizes this fact, and recognizes that he is surrounded by people who could, potentially, help him get past all of it, he is a man who realizes that ultimately it has to be his choice to do so.  The Death of Jim Loney, as a book, explores that idea.  It gives us insight into the man who is Jim and takes us down that dark path right along with him.

I’ve been of fan of James Welch’s writing for a few years now.  Fool’s Crow was one of the first books I was introduced to and I’ve read it three times now and get something out of it each time I read it.  As a child, I always wanted to read western stories and was fascinated with the romantic notions of cowboys and indians, but I never actually made the leap into the genre and let myself go crazy.  Something always felt off.  Now, I recognize that the stories I was craving then were stories like Jim Loney’s.  Authors like James Welch and Louise Erdrich.  And as a child, these stories would have been over my head.

The Death of Jim Loney is not a book I would recommend to get into this genre of literature.  It’s small, and as such, it’s deceptive in a way that may make you think it’ll be an easy one to get.  But, ultimately, this one packs a punch that I’ll be feeling for days.  If you want recommendations, please comment and ask me for some.  If you decide to go ahead and read this one as your first foray into Native literature, then ask me questions – I’m right here.  Mostly, I invite you to start exploring, and if this review helps you get there, then I’ve done something right.

Check out these reviews!

  • “As well as being a portrayal of Native American life, Jim’s character is an excellent depiction of anyone who feels alienated – the unemployed, those battling alcoholism, anyone.” –  No More Work Horse
  • “With these finely sketched characters, Welch constructs a portrait of Loney’s whole life, of the lives of the people who knew him and abandoned him and loved him.” – EthnoLit

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