1946. The war is over, and Yazzie Goldman—a Navajo with both a Jewish name and Jewish blood—is going home. He spent six years in the Navy, and the entire war in San Diego as Shore Patrol. His home is a trading post in Oljato near Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border. A place immortalized by John Ford’s film Stagecoach before the war, and now that the war is over, Mr. Ford, or as Yazzie calls him, Mr. John, is back with crew and cast to film My Darling Clementine.
Yazzie, who worked for Mr. John as a Navajo translator on Stagecoach, is hired to escort a troubled star—
“‘Big star, bigger ego. Linda Darnell.’”
—from Winslow, Arizona to Monument Valley. She has a habit of showing favor to men and then dropping them cold; and a few take it personally. Yazzie and Ms. Darnell hit it off, and the escort job turns into Ms. Darnell’s onsite fulltime security. It’s a perfect job until Linda Darnell is attacked in her cabin, and Yazzie is blamed. The attack is more personal than Yazzie realizes; much more than simply that of suspect.
The Darkness Rolling is a nicely executed period piece with sterling setting, plausible cast, and sharply developed mystery. Its setting, Monument Valley, is described with the tender and light touch of a knowing hand. It is the backdrop of John Wayne’s, and John Ford’s, greatest picture, The Searchers, and is no less integral to this story. Its painted rock shimmers in the narrative, and it is as much the story as the characters and plot. The cast is rich with the real; John Ford, Linda Darnell, are major characters believably developed in the story, and the descriptions of the film crew feel authentic. It is often difficult to determine reality from fiction.
The narrative alternates between first and third person. Yazzie is the center, and his perspective is first person. The antagonist is revealed in brief snippets of third person. It is similar to the development of the antagonist in a serial killer novel, but its brevity shrewdly creates an unease that is buttressed by a creeping dark Navajo tale; a story that intermingles a sense of horror with the mystery.
The novel is also a study of contradiction. Yazzie is part of two cultures—his grandfather is Jewish, and his mother is Navajo. His childhood home and the Navajo culture whisper to him, but his experience in the Navy and his cultural inheritance from his grandfather pull him away. It is similar to Monument Valley’s endless appeal to John Ford. The old, the timeless unchanging cathedral of the desert’s painted rocks, and the undeniable appeal of the new, almost celluloid, American dream with its changing perspectives and sensibilities.