Book Review: 1000 White Women: The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus

1000 white women skinny.pngRemember how in 1875 the U.S. government traded 1000 white women to the Cheyenne Indian Tribe in exchange for 1000 horses to help the Cheyenne learn how to acclimate to the White man’s world?  No?  That’s because it didn’t happen.  But what if it did?

This may seem like a strange premise, but when Ulysses Grant was president, a Chief from the Cheyenne Indian Tribe actually suggested this trade of 1000 white women for 1000 horses.  Of course, the poor guy was laughed out of the room and his proposition was never even considered.  However, I was never too interested in American history, and coupled with my gullibility, I was almost convinced that this story actually happened.  AT FIRST.  But the writing in the journals was so modern that soon the seeds of doubt were planted in my mind as to the story’s validity.

The setup of the book is essentially this:  May Dodd was a woman condemned to the loony bin by her family due to her “promiscuity,” a term used to describe her love for a man who wasn’t her husband.  It seemed she was destined to waste away her prime years institutionalized, with no hope of freedom, until she heard about a strange opportunity.  Patients, provided they were fertile with promising birthing hips (ok…I added that last bit), were given the opportunity to travel west under a super secret “Brides for Indians” program sanctioned by the U.S. Government.  Of course, May Dodd’s immediate reaction was. “Where do I sign up?”  I’m fairly certain she would have sold all of her non-essential organs (and maybe even some essential ones too) on the black market if it could guarantee a hasty departure from the psychiatric facilities where she was being held.  The book itself is meant to be Dodd’s journals, composed of letters to friends and family, she wrote while on her bizarre adventure in the Wild West both before and after meeting her Indian groom.

While I loved the style of this book (Miss Dodd has a great, highly satirical voice), it just didn’t seem to transcend anything other than a fun read not to be overanalyzed due to its various limitations.  First, although May Dodd certainly knows how to tell a good story, unfortunately her language was just too modern to fit in to the late 19th century when it was supposed to have been written.  Perhaps that’s why it appealed to me – because May Dodd just seemed like one of my friends ranting and raving.  But realistic?  Not at all?  I can’t really hold this against the author though, because I honestly don’t believe the author takes himself too seriously (nor was this book meant to be taken seriously).  If it was, well THEN we’d have a serious problem.

However, what I did object to was the one-dimensionality of all the characters.  It’s as if Fergus wrote each character to fit a certain stereotype, and just expounded on them to the point of ridiculousness.  None of the characters ever really acted unexpectedly throughout the entire book, and I think a bit of unpredictability would have added some more depth.  Furthermore, Fergus essentially wrote all of the women characters to be slightly neurotic if not insane.  The only woman that was semi-normal dressed like a man most of the time.  This wouldn’t have even stood out to me had the author himself not been male.  Again, he was just playing into the stereotype that women are overemotional (i.e., not rational) creatures.

Oh, and for such a quirky book with so much humor, it sure had a heck of a depressing ending.  A seriously gruesome, killing and slicing open horses just so one can jump in and wear the intestines like a sticky winter coat kind of ending.  I suppose when I really think about it, the book dealt with some pretty heavy subject matter all the way through, such as rape and murder and domestic abuse.  Yet, I didn’t notice the heaviness as much throughout because May Dodd made it somehow seem a little less depressing with her sense of humor.  And when that was gone, there was nothing to buffer the reader from the horror.

All in all, I did enjoy this book.  As long as you aren’t looking for a literary masterpiece or even realism, then you might enjoy it too.  Just know going in that this is a purely a piece of fiction, and hopefully that will alleviate some of the incredulity I experienced from page to page.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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