George Binns, a professor of English at a university in Flagstaff, Arizona, is called away from the typewriter one morning by his wife, Mary Olive: “There’s something in the back yard.” What George sees is a Hopi kachina, the Aholi, dressed in a long, colorful mask and a tall blue conical head. Challenged by his wife to “do something about it,” George runs outside and confronts the kachina—and is jolted forever from his comfortable routine. Over the course of four days, as the kachina remains a shadowy figure in the yard, George and the Aholi form a strange kind of relationship, one that precipitates several awakenings in George’s life. Most important is the awakening in George’s marriage, as he picks up the gauntlet dropped by Mary Olive and accepts her challenge to act.
Other characters are drawn by Snodgrass with equal sympathy: the Binnses’ neighbors, scholarly Don Pike and his wife, Sally, whose relationship is also affected by the appearance of the kachina and whose marriage comes to a head along with the Binnses’; the mysterious Hopi elder David Lomanongye, keeper of secrets; and, last but not least, the Aholi himself, whose partly comic, partly terrifying presence serves as a catalyst of these events. This tantalizing thread of the Unknown is woven throughout the tale told with otherwise old-fashioned realism; the result is a book of great lyrical depth and stylistic authority, with stabs of hilarious black humor.