When I saw the title of Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™, by Rebecca Roanhorse in Apex Magazine, I anticipated a biting story about plastic shamans and cultural appropriation. I wasn’t exactly wrong, but this story is so much fuller and richer than what I imagined.
Jesse Turnblatt works as a guide for a virtual reality company selling spiritual experiences in Sedona, AZ. The job is exactly what you expect – he dresses up as a movie Indian, speaks in broken English, and performs his Indian-ness in order to provide enlightenment to his (white) customers.
What most struck me was how resigned Jesse was. I expected anger and resentment and barely contained rage. But really, the main character is a guy who just wants to get by. He wants to do his job and get on with his life. Everyone around him is outraged – his wife thinks it’s ridiculous that he takes the stage name of Trueblood, and his co-worker is offended by the “Squaw Fantasy” that she’s asked to take part in – but not Jesse. He watches old westerns to get into character to portray a stereotypical version of his own identity. That kind of resignation is an angle I don’t often see towards cultural exploitation (which may be a flaw in my own reading, and not a hole in the literature), and I appreciated it. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but there’s a twist that makes you rethink the meaning of the title, in the best possible way.
On a craft level, the use of the second-person narrative is skillfully handled, putting the reader fully into Jesse’s point-of-view without feeling bossy or prescriptive. It reminded me of how well N.K. Jemisin handled second-person in the Broken Earth trilogy. In a way, the choice of second-person POV is almost foreshadowing the ending.
Above all else — beyond theme and POV — this is a good read, with interesting characters and a well-developed plot.