Maybe it was because I read this one immediately following Tales of Burning Love, so I was more completely immersed in Erdrich-ness than I have been, yet, in this reading project.
Or, maybe its more prominent air of mysticism charmed me from the first whiff.
Either way, I loved this volume.
It, too, is a love story. Wild and overflowing with sensory detail.
“In truth, he was wild for her because she smelled to him of the raw silk of his mother’s dress in childhood and of the dreamy terror of a hot summer thunderstorm. She smelled like the radishes his mother ate in secret as she read historical novels in the hay barn. She tasted of browned onions. Of silty ice. Of civet sweetness. Tart raspberry sweat and yeasty bread. She had, in other words, captured his soul on a subliminal level beyond the reach of mortal rescue.”
And, yet, these are not the conventional trappings of love stories. These tastes are complicated. They are not what we are taught to feel on our tongues when there is talk of love: cinnamon hearts and chocolate, bubbly champagne and oysters.
Some of Erdrich’s storytelling preoccupations remain, like the importance of naming. (Which remains important as characters from earlier volumes in the sequence continue to resurface.)
“All that’s in a name is a puff of sound, a lungful of wind, and yet it is an airy enclosure. How is it that the gist, the spirit, the complicated web of bone, hair, brain, gets stuffed into a syllable or two? How do you shrink the genie of human complexity? How the personality? Unless, that is, your mother gives you her name, Other Side of the Earth?”
And the importance of storytelling itself. Here, readers assemble their own story, unlike Tales of Burning Love, where we are given a framework of story-after-story to build around. Here, we are simply witnesses.
“My fear is this – if I ever begin to tell the story it will all flood out of me. It will be gone, unfixed, into the mouths of others. I’m afraid the story might stop being mine. Which would be dangerous. I rely on the story, you see. I keep it inside me because without it I might forget or dismiss the reason I no longer trust him. And once I did that, there is no telling what could happen.”
And, as always, she remains concerned with the in-betweens, with the shortcomings of lines and borders.
“Now, that line disturbs me with its lie. Earth and sky touch everywhere and nowhere, like sex between two strangers. There is no definition and no union for sure. If you chase that line, it will retreat from you at the same pace you set. Heart pounding, air burning in your chest, you’ll pursue. Only humans see that line as an actual place. But like love, you’ll never get there. You’ll never catch it. You’ll never know.”
This story enchanted me and made me want to rush for The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003).
LOUISE ERDRICH PROJECT
Tales of Burning Love (1997; 2013)
The Antelope Wife (1998)
The Master Butchers Singing Club (2003)
The Painted Drum (2005)
The Plague of Doves (2008)
Shadow Tag (2010)