“If you had more friends, maybe you wouldn’t spend so much time with your demons.”
Thomas Blackbird Mavrias is a Greek-Cherokee former writer that feels long past making a difference with his words. Finding himself retired and in middling health, the one-time activist is vacationing with his long-time partner Mimi Bull Shield, with the shared goal of tracking down a long-lost Crow bundle. The bundle – taken to Europe by Mimi’s Uncle Leroy when he fled to Europe a century earlier – provides the impetus behind their regular international travels while a collection of Uncle Leroy’s postcards provides direction.
Thomas King’s latest novel, Indians on Vacation, follows Bird and Mimi to Prague. Bird, in turn, is followed by his various demons: Eugene (self-loathing), Cat/Kitty (pessimism), Didi (depression), Desi (despair), and Chip (of the ‘on the shoulder’ variety). Bird’s personal demons are fully fleshed out characters with thoughts and opinions that they aren’t afraid to share, and their dialogue provides a peek into those aspects of his personality that he tries to keep tucked away and out of sight. It’s Mimi that named them, that brought them out in to the open, just as she tries to bring Bird out of his shell. The two are very different people, and their differences provide no shortage of gentle conflict in the close proximity that travel forces upon them.
King’s characters are complicated individuals and the relationship they share is not always simple or smooth. The primary framework of the story takes place in Prague, but there are many digressions and remembrances scattered throughout, where the reader is provided the opportunity to see the man Bird has been, both at other stages in his life and in other stages of his relationship with (and without) Mimi. There is a lot of love between Bird and Mimi, but there are also silences and frustrations and pain, all of which come alive in clever heartfelt dialogue and illuminating prose.
Indians on Vacation is a novel woven from many stories, and those stories are full of the nudges and winks that Thomas King excels at. It’s filled with love and humour, but is also steeped in hard realities and sad truths that, along with Bird’s demons, shape a narrative that’s both a pleasure to read and a rough reminder that the world could use a lot of work.
This review was originally published by Cloud Lake Literary in September of 2020.