From the acclaimed author of Keeper’n Me and For Joshua, Dream Wheels is a vital and unsparing novel from one of the most fascinating voices in Canadian writing.
Joe Willie Wolfchild is on the verge of becoming a World Champion rodeo cowboy when a legendary bull cripples him. At the same time, in the same city, Claire Hartley is brutally assaulted and her 14-year-old son, Aiden, is critically injured during a burglary. The young Ojibway-Sioux man, the black single mother and her mulatto son find their lives irrevocably changed.
Joe Willie, a rodeo cowboy since he was a child, smolders in angry silence over a deformed left arm and a limp that make it impossible for him to compete. Claire, a victim of numerous bad relationships, withdraws from men and swears a bitter celibacy. Aiden gains notoriety among his criminal peers and slips into a self-destructive spiral of drugs and violence.
Eager to find a place for her son to channel his explosive energies, Claire brings Aiden to a rodeo camp run by the Wolfchild family, where he is drawn to bull riding and proves to be a stunning natural. But Joe Willie refuses to have anything to do with the camp, remaining an aloof, mysterious presence to Claire and the boy.
Birch Wolfchild, Joe Willie’s father, sees the potential for Aiden to become a champion and for his son to heal himself, if they can move beyond anger to forge a partnership. Claire’s and Joe Willie’s wounds bring them together in a surprising romance, and beneath it all is Birch Wolfchild’s tale of the changing of the life of the Indian cowboy.
Dream Wheels is a story about change. Moving from the Wild West Shows of the late 1880s to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas to a lush valley in the mountains, it tells the story of a people’s journey, a family’s vision,
a man’s reawakening, a woman’s recovery, and a boy’s emergence to manhood.
From the Hardcover edition.close this panel
The Old Ones say that fate has a smell, a feel, a presence, a tactile heft in the air. Animals know it. It’s what brings hunter and prey together. They recognize the ancient call and there’s a quickening in the blood that drives the senses into edginess, readiness: the wild spawned in the scent. It’s why a wolf pack will halt their dash across a white tumble of snow to look at a man. Stand there in the sudden timeless quiet and gaze at him, solemn amber eyes dilating, the threat leaned forward before whirling as one dark body to disappear into the trees. They do that to return him to the wild, to make all things even once again: to restore proper knowledge. The Old Ones say animals bless a man with those moments by returning him to the senses he surrendered when he claimed language, knowledge and invention as power.
The great bull sensed it and it shivered. The loose skin draped across its bulk belied the tough muscle and sinew that gave locomotive strength to its movement in the chute. The smell was in the air. The ancient smell. It gave a new and different air to the harsh light and dust of the arena. This was old, this scent, causing something to stir in its Indian and Spanish blood that it had never encountered before. Not death, not threat, not challenge because the bull had faced those many times. No, this was more than that. This was more a bidding than an urge, a call forward, an invitation to spectacle, a beckoning to an edge the bull had never approached before. The bull shifted its eighteen hundred pounds and there wasn’t much room to spare on either side of its ribs. It didn’t like the feel of the wood, the closeness, the thin prick of rough-sawn board along its sides. The rage of others was dribbled into the board against its nose, and the bull shivered again and stamped its heavy cloven feet into the dirt of the arena floor. The noise of the crowd beyond the chutes rose and fell awkwardly against the babble of the cowboys tugging and rubbing and plying leather in preparation amidst the jingle of metal, the snap and rub and crinkle of hard rope and the clomp of booted feet and the whinny and nicker of horses unsettled by the turn of the air, the high, sharp slice of the ancient order that called to them now too. A moment was coming, a confrontation. The bull bellowed once and banged the sides of the chute.
Man feet scraped on the boards at its side, the side facing away from the open ocean of the infield: the man side. Out there, in the packed brown dirt rectangle pressed together by high wooden fencing, was his world, the one the bull controlled, the one they entered with the smell of fear high in the air. The men talked, their voices strained, tight in their throats, and the bull felt the abrasive itch of rope start around its shoulders. Just as the dull clank of cowbell rang beside him the bull caught the flare of action between the boards of the chute as another bull and rider exploded into the arena. The noise of the crowd swelled incredibly and there came the bashing and buckling sounds of leather, rope, bell, skin and bone crashing against each other amplified by roiling clouds of dirt that held it, gave it the shape and tone and snap of electrified energy. It didn’t last long. A long, drawn-out sigh accompanied the rider suddenly slammed into the dirt, the sound rising again as bright-costumed men raced about attracting the bull’s anger, diverting it away from the rider who scrambled to his feet, eyes ablaze with a strange mix of indignation and fear, and leaped for the security of the fencing. The great bull bellowed to its cousin in the infield and shook the sides of the chute in celebration of another display of power. The men around it spoke bravely to each other but the bull felt the anxiety creeping just beneath their words. It enjoyed that and it bellowed again.
The movement around the chute increased. Men in front of it were pulling rope against the gate that would soon fling open and send the bull careening into the light and heat and dirt of the battle. The men over top of its back moved silently, deliberately now, and the bull stamped and rolled back and forth, side to side, front to back in the chute forcing them to agitation, their words harsher to each other. The rope about its shoulders was secured and the clank belt set in place. The heavy clink and rattle of the bell angered the bull. It dangled beneath it heavy as another testicle but irksome, foreign, and as its weight settled the bull smelled the ancient smell again and rolled its eyes in their sockets to look upward at the men, rolling its head while it did so and giving the topmost boards a solid thwack and shiver.
It watched the young man climb the fence. Saw the set of his face, determined, calm and strong beneath the fear and felt the firm slap of his gloved hand on its neck as he leaned over, feet straddled on each side of the chute. The man bore the smell too. The bull shifted in the chute, made a small bit of room to accommodate the legs of this man who smelled so richly of that ancient call. It felt the dull rounded rowel of spur against its flank as the man slid into place and it shivered, the loose skin unsettling the man, feeling him grip with his thighs searching for hold, finding it and relaxing again. The bull snorted and half rose on its hind feet, twisting its head side to side and trumpeting the acceptance of this challenge and hearing the buzz of the crowd rise in time with its huge head over the top of the chute. The men spoke quicker, shorter words snapped at each other, and the bull felt the waxed rope being pulled tighter and tighter about its girth.
From the Hardcover edition.
Richard Wagamese is an Ojibway from the Wabasseemoong First Nation in northwestern Ontario. After winning a National Newspaper Award for Column Writing, he published two novels in the 1990s: Keeper’n Me and A Quality of Light. His autobiographical book, For Joshua, was published in 2002. Wagamese has also lectured and worked extensively in both radio and television news and documentary. He lives outside Kamloops, British Columbia.
From the Hardcover edition.close this panel
“Richard Wagamese is a born storyteller and Dream Wheels is his finest book yet. Cover to cover a ripping read.”
“A three-pronged story of redemption, kinship and healing. . . . Dream Wheels’s. . .wisdom is not community specific. It’s
—The Gazette (Montreal)
“Compelling. . . . With an opening passage reminiscent of Faulkner . . . Dream Wheels will delight cowboy literature fans, readers looking for a gorgeous turn of phrase, those interested in Native
culture, or anyone simply after an engaging and satisfying story.”
“A touching, life-affirming tale. . . . Wagamese is capable of true grace on the page.”
—Winnipeg Free Press