New books: Jim Jontz, Wyatt Earp & The Supremes 

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The People's Choice: Congressman Jim Jontz of Indiana
By Ray E. Boomhower
Indiana Historical Society Press

Nowadays it's to be expected that your typical Indiana congressman will call for repeal of all social services, demand that government be run like a small business and try to snuff out the public school system with private school vouchers. In The People's Choice: Congressman Jim Jontz of Indiana, Ray E. Boomhower reminds us that there was an exception in the recent past to the reflexive extremism displayed by the likes of Dan Burton and our current governor.

In his short life - he died of colon cancer in 2007 at the age of 56 - Jim Jontz fought against NAFTA and fought for the protection of the ancient forests of the Northwestern United States. He was propelled into politics by the fight against putting a dam in Fall Creek Gorge in Warren County. He succeeded by successfully running a campaign for State representative against the dam's primary proponent. His career as state representative was followed by a stint in the U.S. Congress representing the Fifth District. Boomhower gives the reader a good sense of Jontz's tireless dedication to his cause, as well as the toll this took on his personal life, in steady and engaging pose. -Dan Grossman

Dragging Wyatt Earp: A Personal History of Dodge City
By Robert Rebein
Swallow Press

Essayist Robert Rebein, who happens to live in Irvington, deconstructs his own past while telling the history of Dodge City, Kansas, in his new novel, Dragging Wyatt Earp. Dodge City used to be known for its lawlessness, loose women, and pleasure-seeking cowboys. Its Main Street was depicted in countless Westerns, serving as the face of the Wild West in its heyday. The city has changed, and now identifies better with grain elevators than saloons and six-shooters.

Rebein uses this shifting history as a mirror for his own. He intersperses memoir with tidbits of history about the city itself, debunking a few myths about some of its famous and infamous individuals along the way, including General Custer as well as Earp himself. The book is at its finest in its final section, which deals with a cowboy's favorite subject: horses. Rebein's writing shines when his subjects can trot, canter, and gallop. He unpacks his own and his family's relationship to the equine, discusses the history of the horse itself and its uncanny bond to humans, and gives a candid account of his own attempts at cowboying after spending much of his adult life in air-conditioned universities.

The initial two-thirds of the novel deal mostly with Rebein and his family, and are pleasant enough. Rebein's writing is masculine and crisp, but takes its time to tell a story. As Rebein tells it, his upbringing had plenty of interesting quirks, but those quirks seem more appropriate topics for a family reunion than a novel. If you're looking for a memoir detailing the exciting life of a man who faced insurmountable odds, then keep looking. But if you're seeking an honest tale about examining life in a changing American West, then you'll find it in Rebein's prose. -Emma Faesi

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The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat
By Edward Kelsey Moore
Alfred A. Knopf

Seemingly designed for the Oprah's Book Club set (with its slick but folksy cover), The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat details the lives of three African-American women - Bernice, Odette and Barbara Jean - from the sixties to the present in the fictional town of Plainview, Ind. Their friends call them "The Supremes," and their perpetual hangout over the swath of forty years is Earl's All You Can Eat restaurant. Odette is the most magically real, as it were, of the three Supremes; she was born in a sycamore tree and has conversations with dead people.

Think of the book as Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café meets The Color Purple meets One Hundred Years of Solitude. Edward Kelsey Moore, who just so happens to be male, does a particularly good job in intertwining the lives of these three women. He certainly knows how to spin a lively yarn, and the book could have cross-gender appeal, which just goes to show that you can't always judge a book by its marketing. -Dan Grossman

The Tribal Knot: A Memoir of Family, Community, and a Century of Change
By Rebecca McClanahan
Indiana University Press

Drawing on a wealth of memories, old photos, letters, and diaries, Rebecca McClanahan shows the trajectory of her family from its rural beginnings in the Hoosier heartland to its suburban and transient incarnation that she knew during her childhood. Along this journey, we learn about her great-grandfather's application to the Improved Order of Red Men in Oxford, Ind., in which he had to affirm that he was, in fact, a white citizen of the United States. In such episodes, it's possible to see how radically life in Indiana has changed over the past century.

More central to the narrative is the story of McClanahan's Great-aunt Bessie. We're treated to excerpts from the diary that she started in 1897. Unlike other members of her family, Bessie remained rooted in place for most of her life, and her story successfully grounds the narrative. But too often the author/narrator barrages the reader with questions about what might have gone on in family members' minds at particular times in their lives. She writes of Bessie as a youth: "Did she listen for the footsteps on the stairs, her three cousins returning late from the city?" Such questions don't clarify anything and are frankly annoying. The narrative loosens up though, when McClanahan writes of her own upbringing, and the final passages of the memoir are beautiful, poetic, and moving. -Dan Grossman

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