Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Flower" by Louise Erdrich

Issue Date: June 29, 2015

Story: "The Flower" by Louise Erdrich

Rating: $$$

Review: Louise Erdrich kind of lost me after her last NYer story "The Big Cat" from the March 31, 2014 issue of The New Yorker and the April 8th, 2014 posting of this blog. You see, there was a time when I wasn't three months behind in my reviewing. Aye yai yai. Anyway, "The Big Cat" failed to impress me, mostly because it felt like Erdrich was trying to be too civilized, telling the story of a modern-day, middle-class suburban white man and his modern-day, middle-class suburban white man problems and emotions. That's fine...for someone else. But to me Erdrich is better when she's writing about the wild people and the flaming passions of the West, whether of Native Americans or whites, whether in the present or the past. Something about the rugged landscape and untamed characters tend to bring out the best in Erdrich.

Three stars because, like a good "journey story" should do, once this story got going it was impossible to put down. Furthermore, once I was able to properly cipher through the potpourri of characters Erdrich throws at you (McKinnon, Mink, Mashkiig, Wolfred, and Mink's daughter "the girl" all come leaping out of the story within the first paragraph), I began to feel an genuine emotional investment in Wolfred and "the girl," who together try to escape the drunken, violent trapper, McKinnon.

Set somewhere on the fringes of civilization, somewhere in the North America of a by-gone time, Erdrich is free to tell the story of the "the girl's" free spirit and her impossible courage as she helps Wolfred poison McKinnon and helps lead Wolfred through the woods as they try to escape. It would take an extremely tough, independent, and clever 11 year old girl to do all this, and -- perhaps most importantly -- to recognize that Wolfred wasn't the type to pull any fast ones on her, sexually or otherwise, which, in the Old West there were a lot of people trying to pull fast ones, or so it seems. me that is the core of Erdrich's material: the indomitable Native American spirit and the ways it expresses itself when forced to navigate through the constricting, and to them artificial, structures of white civilization.

Especially noteworthy, in my mind, was the part when, still slaving away in McKinnon's trading post, Wolfred realizes that the newly-arrived girl is ethereally pretty despite her age, and determines to hide this fact from the drunken, no-good McKinnon. He does this by repeatedly slathering her face with mud and forcing her to hide her face as much as possible. This is where we start to like Wolfred and start to realize he is a character worth casting our sympathies behind.


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…

Holiday Q&A, Volume 1

These questions come to us from Grace. Thanks for sending your questions!! Answers below:
What is the most thrilling mystery you have read and/or watched?
The Eiger Sanction (book and film) by Trevanian is what's coming to mind. International espionage. Mountain-climbing assassins. Evil albino masterminds. Sex. Not a bad combination. Warning, this is completely a "guy" movie, and the film (feat. Clint Eastwood) is priceless 70s action movie cheese. But in case that's your thing...
What's the deal with Narcos?
Narcos is a Netflix show about the rise and fall (but mostly the fall) of Columbian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. Thus far there are two seasons of 10 episodes each. RIYL: The film Blow, starring Johnny Depp; the book Zombie City, by Thomas Katz; the movie Goodfellas; true crime; anything involving the drug trade. My brief review: Season 1 started out a bit slow and I know a bunch of people who never made it past the first few episodes. Some of the acting is a…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…