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 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.
W. S. Penn is also the author of a previous novel, The Absence of Angels, a collection of essays, All My Sins Are Relatives, and most recently has edited The Telling of the World: Native American Stories and Art. A mixblood Nez Perce, he is Professor of English and resident writer at Michigan State University and lives in East Lansing.