‘Indian Burial’ by Dean Doner

Indian Burial by Dean Doner, 1958

The magic trick:

Turning an internal-focused story into an old-fashioned boy’s adventure tale

We return to South Dakota today for another great coming-of-age Dean Doner story. “Indian Burial” finds our young protagonist set adrift for a summer in the country with his cousins, away from the familiar city comforts. There are wild river currents, rattlesnakes, and lots of bugs.

It’s very much an internal story, focusing on the boy’s feelings and the lessons he’s able to glean from the various events and interactions he has during the summer. But at the same time, it’s kind of a page-turner. I read this thing on the edge of my seat, excited to see what might happen next in this wild country setting of real danger and high stakes.

In that way, it almost recalls an old-fashioned boy’s adventure tale like Treasure Island.

And that’s quite a trick on Doner’s part.

The selection:

The Johnsons, however, not only had made their peace with the forces of nature but felt a kind of impatient contempt for anyone who had not. They ignored insects, and I alone battled the ones that nightly circled the lamp. But the family did notice my squirming and slapping. Could I not sit still, someone would ask.

“Well, the bugs… ” I would begin, and then Aunt Edith would say, “Why don’t you move over away from the light?”

“Then we can’t play cards any more,” Ansel would say, slapping his hand down and gathering up the deck. Judith would groan and sigh elaborately.

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