Thursday, September 8, 2011

Tracks by Louise Erdrich: A review

Reading this book reminded me of trying to work a jigsaw puzzle without the benefit of the box top picture. You begin to wonder if these pieces REALLY fit together or have you forced them. Will there be a recognizable picture when you finish or will it just be a splatter of dots that mean nothing?

One doesn't expect Louise Erdrich to tell a linear story and she certainly doesn't in Tracks. It is a thoroughly non-linear, stream-of-consciousness kind of tale, an Ojibwe tale. Her storytelling has been compared to Faulkner's and one can clearly see why in this book.

Erdrich employs two narrators, Nanapush and Pauline. Nanapush is an old man who is telling stories to his granddaughter, Lulu. He is telling her about her origins and how she came to be who she is. Pauline's story is her own - a story of how she came to be a bride of Christ - but tangentially, her story also touches Lulu through Lulu's mother, Fleur.

Fleur was a woman of power. Her community ascribed those powers to the supernatural. In fact, in the Ojibwe community of 1912 - 1924, when these events take place, all of life was seen as influenced by the supernatural, by beings from another plane of existence. Often, these were the ancestors, relatives, and friends who had passed on to the next life. The Ojibwe had a mixture of religious belief that embraced the ancient faith as well as the Catholic one. At times, it was difficult to see where one left off and another began.

The language of this novel, as always in Erdrich's novels, is quite beautiful. Occasionally, the reader comes on a passage that strikes right to the center of her heart. Even so, I found the story a little difficult to follow. Once in a while I wished for a straightforward, linear path through the tangled web of these lives. "This happened and then this happened which led to this and ultimately resulted in that." One will always wish in vain for such a straight telling of an Erdrich story.

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