The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band, A Review

Frances Washburn did a great job of telling the story of Sissy, a young woman who feels stuck in a small Rez town. Sissy is the lead singer of The Red Bird All-Indian Traveling Band, along with three men who are all comical and pitiful in their own rights. To Sissy, though, the band is a dead-end, her job is a dead-end, and her life in the small town is a dead-end. There’s a lot of angst in this story. As a reader, I wanted nothing but to see Sissy succeed. Throughout the story, I couldn’t help but feel as stuck as Sissy felt. That’s a testament to Washburn’s ability to fully encase the reader in the story.

The story began with a murder. We later hear bits and pieces of the investigation as an FBI agent is assigned to the case and occassionally harrasses Sissy because “everyone tells her everything.” The scenes leading up to this were great in setting up the mystery. However, much of the book ignores the murder. There’s a fight between two genres in this book. The murder mystery genre simply doesn’t have a chance against the stronger literary coming-of-age type story that unfolds. That’s a shame because Washburn did a wonderful job of setting up the murder mystery tempo of the story at the beginning. Overall, the murder simply fizzles away in the background as we go through everyday life with Sissy.

Sissy is the protagonist and she has nothing to do with the murder, so it makes sense that the story basically has nothing to do with the murder. The FBI agent, though, does serve as a proper antagonist (one of many) in helping Sissy triumph over her present situation. That situation, that life Sissy leads, is respectable but readers still want more for her. She’s so busy helping others, that I wanted her to get away to start recieving help herself. Or at least just to take a vacation.

Washburn was excellent at describing the rodeos and small town bars where the band performed. There was enough detail to pull the reader in without overexplaining. Each character too was filled out nicely. They all had their quirks and Washburn kept them in line with Sissy.

Chapter 13 and some of chapter 15 suffered from enough grammatical errors that it was enough to turn me off for a bit (hence the late review). That may be a problem just in my copy. It seemed as though a copyeditor simply skipped over the whole of chapter 13 and parts of 15. Sadly, this did serve to take away from the flow of the story for me. Later editions may fix this.

However, the story should reign supreme even though there were distractions at the end. The story itself was wonderful and an honest appraisal of small-town life for natives today. The characters were the driving force in the story, and I was mostly satisfied with the end. I’d even be interested in a book that continues the story of Sonny, Sissy’s cousin and bandmate. Washburn is a beautiful writer who captures characters well. It’d do writer’s well to read the book to see her characters in action. Others will be drawn into the story as I was.