Wheezer and the Shy Coyote
“Greed is a sickness it is hard to get cured of,” Lucius, one of the heroes of Kitty Sutton’s most delightful and poignant Wheezer and the Shy Coyote quotes his mother in Chapter 13 as he comments on members of the U.S. Army who are running whiskey illegally to Cherokee Indians in the Indian Territory they have been displaced to after having been marched across the country with barely any provisions with not a thought to their well-being after their land had been stolen out from underneath them in yet another in the vast string of shameful broken treaties the young nation made with this land’s native Peoples. Deftly, and with a surprisingly light touch and great amounts of wonderful humor, Miss Sutton weaves a wondrous tale of mystery and intrigue complete with a powerful young heroine, Sasa who communicates with two of literatures finest heroes, Wheezer, a Jack Russell terrier, and Yellow Eyes, the shy coyote of the title.
It is after the shameful forced march that has come to be known as the Trail of Tears, where Miss Sutton picks up the story of not only the Cherokee but some Choctaw and other Indian Peoples, too, illustrating how they are trying to adjust, trying to learn the “white man’s ways,” trying to adapt and to move forward into this new world into which they have been plunged. This is a complex story where not all the Indians are good and all the white people are bad, but where humans are humans and act out along the vast spectrum of complex human behavior, which makes this story achingly real and heart-breaking.
A murder occurs and character is revealed along the way of discovering not only who committed the murder but why and also the much greater scope of selling whiskey to the Indians – a substance that acts like poison to them. In an addendum to the novel, Miss Sutton presents a very brief but poignant essay outlining how alcoholism and substance abuse has devastated Indian nations.
Which is why her writing and this book is so magical: The story contains not a whiff of self-pity. Instead it paints a vast and gorgeous scope of Cherokee life. And we need to know this. As a nation, we need to know, we need to recognize, we need to acknowledge what we did. There are bodies buried here. There was a Holocaust committed here. A genocide, right here, in this great and beautiful nation that has stained its brave and beautiful soul.
And still, there is Wheezer—who will steal your heart, and Sasa who will amaze you and Coyote and Yellow Eyes for whom you will cheer and Anna and Jackson who will give you hope that there are good people everywhere in every color and “if we are to survive we must stop the fighting…”
Wheezer and the Coyote will immerse you in that time and place of 1839. Miss Sutton gets everything right. She simply channels it—from the voice of Cherokee elder Poison Woman to Irish National escapee Lucius to Jack Russell Wheezer, from her description of a fine western room to an army outpost that gets you wondering how did she do this, the book is a remarkable, moving adventure with a story that needs to be told that Miss Sutton tells without judgment but with great passion and deep knowledge. Embark upon this journey. I cannot wait to read her next one.