A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
The story is set in 1992, with flashbacks to the '70s and '80s, with a lot of historical detail. Language is often literary and assumes an adult reading vocabulary. The first treaty between Haudenosaunee Indigenous tribes and Dutch settlers in the early 1600s, known as the Two Row Wampum Treaty, describes two parallel vessels going forward in the same river, acknowledging each other, and leaving each other alone. The treaty's provisions, in different arrangements, open each section of the book. The art, lyrics, and music of the band Rush had a life-changing impact, world-expanding on the author as an 11-year-old. For example, because of their album All the World's a Stage, he learned about Shakespeare. Brian's story is full of homage and references, and the author's illustrations are drawn from the band's artwork. Star Wars and comic book references, especially Fantastic Four, also loom large. Lots of detail about Tuscarora history culture, language, and beliefs is given through the stories, including references to the story of Hiawatha and the Peacemaker. The environmental catastrophe at Love Canal has a profound impact on the lives of characters who lived and grew up there.
The interactions of Good Mind and Bad Mind, and the traditional theme that the two are always part of your world, are a strong theme. So is gambling, especially rolling the dice, both cosmically and literally, as there's an ongoing, disreputably irresistible dice game on the Rez -- "Their parties were so alive, you stopped for a few laughs, and suddenly the next morning your head was pounding and your pockets were full of echoes." Recognizing who your people are and sticking by them even when they are deeply flawed is also a strong theme. Recognizing and appreciating moments of unexpected (and possibly undeserved) kindness. Recognizing that you and your friend have really messed up things between you, but you're both now trying to put things right. A character who's a volunteer firefighter and EMT on the Rez says, "When you bring someone back, when the blue lips you been pressing yours against turn pink again, there's not another feeling like that on earth."
Positive Role Models
Brian is trying to navigate the demands of living in two worlds with ethics and honor, and often overwhelmed by the conflicts. Characters are complex, nuanced, and contradictory. For example, a long-married couple still plainly in love make their living fleecing and stealing from ing anyone who's a guest in their home, and that's just the family business, passed on to their kids, along with a fondness for playing mean tricks. A vocal church lady preaches against premarital sex proves to have become pregnant before her own marriage. The older White guy and perennial outsider who married into Brian's tribe tries harder than most to do the right thing, often resulting in no-good-deed-goes-unpunished situations but also in breakthrough moments of huge, unexpected, unconventional kindness.
Living in two parallel worlds -- and whether that's even possible -- is a core issue both in history, as seen in the Two Worlds treaty, and in Brian's life. Most of the characters are Tuscarora, living on the Rez. Some White adults are married to or romantically involved with tribal woman, and some have children. Brian has left the Rez -- where his uncle, a traditional healer, sees reluctant Brian as his successor -- to work as a newspaper reporter. But Brian returns when his mentor and protector -- a White man -- is viciously beaten, bringing to light decades of hard feelings and conflicted relationships. As a kid and adult, Brian encounters casual, bullying racial discrimination from White adults as a way of life, but also has a strong friendship with an older White man who lives on the Rez and has a family there. Some Rez people make racist remarks about White people, including their own neighbors and family members.
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Violence & Scariness
The vicious beating of a middle-aged adult character who refuses to reveal his assailant lands the victim in the hospital with grave injuries. Domestic violence is just part of life for some characters. As a kid, Brian is regularly beaten, kicked in the privates, and nearly drowned in toilets by bullying schoolmates, among other abuses.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Teens on the Rez strategize and brag about "snagging," i.e. having sex. As a tween, Brian is the victim of a mean prank involving party-game masturbation that forever becomes part of his Rez identity. Later, he witnesses what appears to be a prostitute giving oral sex to an older man at a party for the entertainment of the crowd, though it later appears the truth is a bit more complex. Brian himself is still a virgin in his 20s, and a bit embarrassed about it, but there's a lot of sex, cheating, broken marriages, and troubled relationships among the other characters, teen and adult. The title character has already had children with two different women and deserted them before going to live with Brian's mom.
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Plentiful, repeated crude language, including "f--k," "s--t," "balls," "pecker," "ass," "piss," "pubes."
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Products & Purchases
Late 20th century iconic mall store Chess King, and a leather jacket sold there, are important to the plot. Incidental mention of car, cigarette and beer brands, mostly for character definition and scene setting.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adults and teens smoke and drink, often to excess. Some teens outgrow it.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that My Good Man, by author, academic, and Onondaga Eel Clan member Eric Gansworth, is a complex, fraught, often crude, darkly hopeful coming of age tale written for an adult audience. Fans of Gansworth's young adult fiction will find familiar themes in this story, set in 1992 with flashback vignettes from the '70s and '80s: life on and off the Rez; the conflicts that come of living in two worlds (and being an outsider in both of them); a darkly funny, ironic worldview; a search for the right path. Also, lives saved by rock 'n' roll -- here, the Canadian band Rush. However, it's a much edgier world than in his YA novels. Toxic waste (literal and emotional) and tangled relationships are constant. So are dicey (literally) situations, as teens and adults drink, smoke, and gamble as normal daily life. Life-changing scenes involve masturbation -- a recurring theme -- and oral sex. Broken marriages, domestic violence, serial cheating, and a loving couple who rob all their neighbors blind are part of the landscape. So are crude situations (the narrator has many close encounters with toilets, both scrubbing gross ones on his job and having his head plunged into them as a bullied kid) and language, including "f--k," "s--t," "piss," "pecker," and more. Teen readers may find the story's slow pacing and contemplative, often worried narrative style a bit of a slog. Those who persevere will find a lot of thought-provoking history and culture along the way, often seen in unexpected perspectives, and probably some relatable situations..
Is It Any Good?
Eric Gansworth's adult tale finds a 25-year-old Tuscarora man sorting out his identity amid conflicting demands, clashing worldviews, and complex relationships. Crude, funny, introspective and leisurely, My Good Man is packed with historic and cultural references, including the Two Row Wampum Treaty in the early 1600s that sought to define forever the relationship between Indigenous tribes and Dutch settlers; the Love Canal toxic waste disaster; and the Canadian band Rush. Set in 1992 near Niagara Falls, on and off the Tuscarora reservation, the story finds protagonist Brian trying to find a path between two worlds, alienated and typecast in his newspaper job, but ostracized and seen as weird back on the Rez. It's complicated, partly due to the family business.
"My grandfather's older brother ... might not be the only remaining medicine man, but he was the last one working in the open. Not like, hanging a shingle with a spiral handprint out front, and dreamcatchers dangling from beneath it, or other ridiculous New Age s--t. The Rez didn't speak of it, but if you needed something? You knew where to go. As soon as you say 'Medicine family' off the Rez, though, suddenly some woman drenched in patchouli and turquoise was reporting her psychic dreams and secret high Indian cheekbones. Or a middle-aged blond guy with a sad possum-tail braid was asking you to bless his drum group's digs in the old growth he bought day-trading."
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