Elevate Difference

From the Hilltop

After I read this collection of a dozen stunning stories, I sadly realized that I could count on one hand the number of Native American authors with whom I am familiar. I might pride myself on my awareness that Native Americans live diverse ways of life, just as other ethnic groups, and that the indigenous peoples of the Americas are incredibly diverse in their traditions. However, I have realized a desire to deepen my familiarity with the creative output of contemporary Native Americans.

From the Hilltop is the first volume from "Métis" author Toni Jensen. This book is easily in my top five all-time for short story collections. My favorite story, “Still,” conveys the ache beyond words experienced by a woman who has had a miscarriage. She tries to speak to her family “in English and in Michif,” but neither of her tongues are useful.

Family names reoccur from one chapter to the next. An uncle who is mentioned in the first story appears as a character in the second. This trait gives an element of continuity to the collection, while the stories remain independent from one another. Aspects of American Indian tradition and history appear in these stories of ordinary struggle, misunderstandings, and family tragedy, brightened by moments of surprising beauty.

The choice of words, whether for descriptions, dialogue, or inner reflection, is impeccable. Jensen is a powerful, gifted writer who has crafted characters for whom this reader felt deeply.

As the film Smoke Signals made many aware of the brilliance of Sherman Alexie, I hope this collection will reach a wide readership and call attention as well to other deserving Native American writers. From the Hilltop is part of the Native Storiers series of the University of Nebraska Press.

Written by: Lisa Rand, March 26th 2010