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Killing Time with Strangers
By W. S. Penn
283 pp. / 6.00 in x 9.00 in / 2005
Paper (978-0-8165-2053-4)
  - Sun Tracks

Related Interest
  - Fiction

Young Pal needs help with his dreaming.

Palimony Blue Larue, a mixblood growing up in a small California town, suffers from a painful shyness and wants more than anything to be liked. That's
Winner of the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award

With the captivating rhythm of an oral storyteller, this tale spun by a weyekin, or spirit guide, describes a Nez Perce family's struggle to keep their souls and still fit into the white world. . . . Dream and reality often overlap in the course of the tale, as the weyekin appears in the guise of an ally, sometimes aiding, sometimes complicating Pal's search. But the story remains grounded in the full-bodied reality of all the characters, with Pal especially endearing. As he's drawn into quirky, sexy, and often very funny circumstances, the reader gets a glimpse of the real cost of cultural adaptation.


Penn creates a novel satirizing Californian mores as it balances personal, soulful dreams against that big one: the American dream.

Publishers Weekly

The theme of Killing Time with Strangers, in which a young man of mixed blood tries to balance his Native American heritage with the white world in which he lives, is a familiar one. What sets this novel apart is its fresh approach. . . . A pixy and humorous tale, so much a part of the art of the traditional Native American storytelling.

Denver Post

Penn's deft and delicate prose moves us easily through real and magical worlds.

Library Journal

An entrancing, timeless novel. It's a work whose social observations subtly upset what some think they know about the Native American experience. Not only that, it just might teach you how to dream.

Tucson Weekly

why Mary Blue, his Nez Perce mother, has dreamed the weyekin, the spirit guide, to help her bring into the world the one lasting love her son needs to overcome the diffidence that runs so deep in his blood. The magical (and not totally competent) weyekin pops in and out of Pal's life at the most unexpected times—and in the most unlikely guises—but seems to have difficulty setting him on the right path. Is there any hope for Palimony Blue?

Don't ask his father, La Vent Larue; La Vent is past hope, past help, a city zoning planner and a pawn in the mayor's development plans who ends up crazy and in jail after he shoots the mayor in the—well, never mind. Better to ask Pal's mother, who summons the weyekin when she isn't working on a cradle board for Pal and his inevitable bride. And while you're at it, ask the women in Pal's life: Sally the preacher's daughter, Brandy the waitressing flautist, Tara the spoiled socialite. And be sure to ask Amanda, if you can catch her. If you can dream her.

Using comic vision to address serious concerns of living, Penn has written a freewheeling novel that will surpass most readers' expectations of "ethnic fiction." Instead of the usual polemics, it's marked by a sense of humor and a playfulness of language that springs directly from Native American oral tradition.

What more can be said about a book that has to be read to the end in order to get to the beginning? That Killing Time with Strangers is unlike any novel you have read before? Or perhaps that it is agonizingly familiar, giving us glimpses of a young man finding his precarious way in life? But when the power of dreaming is unleashed, time becomes negotiable and life's joys and sorrows go up for grabs. And as sure as yellow butterflies will morph into Post-It notes, you will know you have experienced a new and utterly captivating way of looking at the world.

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