New Fiction July/August 2004

Laff Tracks

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At the end of Louise Erdrich's Tracks (1988), the fearsome, fetching, dangerously divine Fleur Pillager—a Chippewa earth mother so idolized by the author as to seem a form of creative self-caricature—finally walks away from her beloved patch of Dakota forest, abandoning it to the whim and destruction of white loggers and tribal sellouts. Erdrich's latest finds the indomitable Fleur trudging all the way to Minneapolis, where she hires on as a laundress in the home of a wealthy timber baron simply in order to take his life in revenge. Fortunately or not, however, Erdrich doesn't like her dishes served cold, and soon a bedroom farce breaks out amid the tragedy. Thus Four Souls juxtaposes the silly and the somber, the ribald and the elegiac. Nuance heeds the DO NOT DISTURB sign and generally stays away.

In one of the most chilling scenes in Tracks, Fleur joins a card game with ghosts and is forced to wager on her young daughter's soul. The gambling theme returns here, as do several other main characters, but Four Souls feels like little more than a low-stakes game among studiously eccentric old friends—those whose seriousness becomes a mockery of itself and whose humor is entirely too insistent. Erdrich needs to work on her poker face.

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