Erika Wurth’s lyrical short story collection Buckskin Cocaine, a compendium of voices from the Native American film scene, puts questions of seeing and identity at its center. “Robert Two-Stories,” for instance, takes an intriguing twist on visuality and filmmaking by featuring a character who conceives of his life in cinematic terms. He unites the collection’s two main themes by framing the importance of recalling one’s roots in filmic language: “That’s what’s important. Knowing who you are and where you come from. That’s what my grandmother taught me and I tried to think of it all as some sort of, you know, like, Reverse Angle Shot.”
Robert continues to reframe the question of heritage in cinematic terms when he calls his tribute to his grandmother—the inclusion of the Creek language alongside English in his movies—a form of “Double Exposure.” He even measures the loss of the mother of his child in points of visual poignance: “After a few weeks she started to disappear… And I knew then one day she’d be really gone, like I was filming her from a truck, a Tracking Shot, her body getting farther and farther away until the fade to black and the Credit Rolls.” The collection is at its most potent when capturing the visual terms in which its characters process their poetry and pain.
Wurth excels at channelling the violence of the human struggle. One of the more remarkable stories is “Barry Four Voices.” Barry imagines himself, wisely, as having many selves, and one of them wields a knife. “He thinks he’s more real than the rest of us, but he has to think that or he will die.” Another story that gestures toward the ferocity that crouches within us all is “Olivia James.” As Olivia examines the dissolution of an adult romance, she remembers her young love. She contrasts the sweetness of Tomás with the tartness of David, who calls her a whore when she tells him she aborted his baby. She sums up that particular amalgam of longing and almost aggression that is teenage desire: “I remember hitting Shaun in the chest gently, and the light that came into his big amber-colored eyes when I did it, the envy and violence that came into the eyes of all the boys around him. I laughed happily.”
While some of the characters’ monologues can be cloying, this is not a style glitch. In fact, Wurth utilizes voices that initially sound shallow to shed light on deeper issues of gender and culture. One (intentionally) grating character is Lucy Bigboca. Wurth uses Lucy to look at the place of tradition and feminism in the life of the modern Native woman. Lucy muses, “Native women don’t need feminism because for example, I’m the one that’s been in control in all of my relationships? So, I don’t even need that stuff, that’s colonizing anyway. Maybe some of those stupid Native chicks that think they’re more traditional than me (as if!!!) could use it LOL!!!” Lucy announces the collection’s exploration of the drive to be traditional and the simultaneous need to fit into a non-traditional world. She also recalls the kind of young woman who thinks feminism has brought her nothing even as she’s benefitting from the work of all those women who came before her. At the same time, Lucy astutely notes that there’s a colonizing quality to a certain kind of feminist discourse—especially the sort of discourse that has often excluded women who aren’t white.
Another of Wurth’s female characters with a shrewd view on identity is Candy Francois, who tells us just how much her senator boyfriend “loved for me to put on the black leather gear I’d gotten from some of those club gigs, and whip his white, white ass.” Candy also offers her own thoughtful take on a theme central to this collection, the assault of seeing. Of her modeling career, she says, “Everyone said I looked like I was about to go through the camera and eat whoever was on the other side.” Candy appearing like she would bust through the camera and consume you aptly captures Wurth’s take on the act of meditating on visuality and identity: it is a beautiful and dangerous pastime.