David Treuer’s fourth novel, Prudence, is set in northern Minnesota, near the Leech Lake Reservation where he grew up. It opens in August 1942, as Frankie Washburn is returning to the Pines, the resort owned by his parents, for a brief visit before joining the war as a bombardier. The reunion is fraught with negative memories from the past, especially the distance between Frankie and his father, Jonathan. Frankie’s sexual orientation, although never mentioned, is planted like a wall between them. Frankie’s mother is oblivious, her main concern in life being the upkeep of the Pines itself.
She is aided in this endeavor not by Jonathan, but by Felix, an older Indian who also served over the years as Frankie’s surrogate father, teaching him and Billy, a young Indian neighbor, all he knew about hunting, fishing, boating and crafting things out of wood.
Across the river from the Pines is a German POW camp, and on the day Frankie returns, a search is in progress for an escaped prisoner. Felix, Frankie, two of his friends from Princeton and Billy join in. The day ends in a tragedy that reverberates throughout the remainder of this acutely emotional novel, touching each character and dictating the course of each of their lives—most of all Prudence, a young Indian girl.
Prudence’s backstory is meted out gradually, and the way her life intersects with Frankie’s becomes the crux of this powerful story. In one of many flashbacks, Frankie muses on “the heavy fog of sadness” that hung over his childhood—a fog that engulfs Treuer’s mesmerizing, beautifully told novel like a cocoon.