In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Swift Dam punches above its weight class

Swift Dam punches above its weight class. Amazon review link.


5.0 out of 5 stars Both timely and timeless.March 18, 2017
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This review is from: Swift Dam (Paperback)


Sid Gustafson's _Swift Dam_ punches above its weight class: written by a practicing veterinarian, it reads like the work of a celebrated Iowa Writer's Workshop prodigy, and clocking in at only 150 pages, little more than a long novella, it takes its reader into a fully flushed out imagination of a very real event. Amidst its surface tale of the broken Swift Dam flood of 1964, it interweaves three distinct stories.

First, it puts forward a cautionary tale, warning us not to put too much faith in modernity's bold technological breakthroughs, for the water may indeed break through them, leaving us in the devastating ruins of a failed modernity. Like Walter Benjamin's vision of the Angel of progress as a series of train wrecks piling on top of each other, Gustafson shows us the dark, underbelly of modernity, suggesting forcefully that the Swift dam was not the first dam to fail, nor will it be the last. We need to stop seeing modern technology--again portrayed in the novel as the excessive use of chemicals to treat animals--as an infallable panacea, and become more cautious of its risks and dangers. As the bumper sticker says, "Nature Bats Last."

The larger second story is the tragic demise of the Blackfeet people, their lives, their property, and their hopes which were washed downstream, living below the dam. Here the story is less about the failure of modern technology per se, and more about the devastating losses caused by modernity's failure. Gustafson shows us how yet again Native Americans have born the brunt of a failed notion of Manifest Destiny which has repeatedly damaged Native people through military violence, infectious diseases, broken treaties, and now breached dams.

Gustafson's third narrative, however, is perhaps his most subtle and most fully realized. Told through the eyes of an old school veterinarian who eschews the excessive use of drugs, Gustafson weaves a tale about our alienation from the land and the animals who live on it. So in addition to telling a narrative about modernity's tragic failures, Gustafson also offers a ray of hope, depicting a world in which--through animal husbandry/midwifery and Native traditions and perspectives, we might reconnect to our lands and the animals who populate them.

This quick, but delightful, read restores faith in the old ways of the past as a cure for a world alienated by too much technology and an insufficient connection to Native lands and peoples.

Robert Bennett is a Professor of English at Montana State University

Dr Gustafson graduated from Washington State University as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1979. He is a practicing veterinarian, equine behavior educator, and novelist. The application of behavioral science to the husbandry of horses enhances optimal health, performance, soundness, contentment, and longevity. Behavioral, social, locomotory, and nutritional strategies enhance the prosperity, vigor, and health of stabled horses. Sid offers veterinary care, training, husbandry, and conditioning from the horse's perspective to achieve willing and winning equine partnerships with humans.
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