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Kimberly and I finished reading aloud Tales of Burning Love by Louise Erdrich today. It's her fifth book, but oddly enough the first that both Kimberly and I read. Sources seem to differ about whether it was the last book she wrote with her husband or the first she wrote without.

After we finished reading, Kimberly and I talked about how Erdrich likes to bookend her novels, and I find this volume very interesting because it goes further, bookending her whole sequence of five books. It starts, just Love Medicine (#1) did, with June walking out into the snow to die. The protagonists of The Beet Queen (#2) are the parents of one of the major characters in this book (Dot) and Fleur, the star of Tracks (#3), is the parent of the other (Jack). Finally, the pivotal sequence of Tales of Burning Love all happens on the same night as the pivotal events of The Bingo Palace (#4) ... and in fact Tales of Burning Love resolves the (very) dangling plots from The Bingo Palace. (And it's the resolution of those plot elements simultaneous with the plot elements of this book that gives Tales of Burning Love much of its strength.)

Beyond all of that, it's nice to note that Tales of Burning Love was good where The Bingo Palace that preceded it often felt trite and unpleasant. I don't think that it held up as well to reading aloud as reading to oneself though. That's primarily because of a huge digression in the middle of the book where all of Jack's ex-wives talk about him. The stories are compelling, but the break in the forward narrative is much more obvious when it takes weeks to get past.

Overall, quite enjoyable, though I'm no longer certain I think it's Erdrich's best book. And, I'm looking forward to what comes next, as this is the last Erdrich book that I'd read before.
shannon_a: (Default)
Kimberly & I finished our newest read-aloud book today, which was The Bingo Palace by Louise Erdrich. When we read aloud, as often as not we do it seven days a week, but with The Bingo Palace, toward the end we were often missing days. In part, that's because it frankly wasn't good.

The Bingo Palace centers on Lipsha Morissey, Lyman Lamartine, and their love for Shawnee Ray Toose. In large part, it's a story of a love triangle. Sad to say, not only was it a boring plot, but the characters were so unlikeable so much of the time, that you really didn't want anyone to get together with anyone else, because if they did they might reproduce!

I felt like the book redeemed itself a tiny bit toward the end, when there were several chapters that were funny (something that's usually a part of Erdrich's writing, but was largely missing from this book) and several which didn't deal with the core conflict. But then the book ended dealing with totally other conflicts that weren't focused much on in the book, and that was still a bit of a fizzle.

There were some good ideas in the book and some interesting parallels, and there could have been a good book made out of those elements, but they were so poorly developed and the two men in particular were so unlikeable that the book failed.

Fortunately, I know that Erdrich's next book, Burning Tales of Love, is much better, else I might be off her whole series after this volume.
shannon_a: (Default)
Finished reading Four Souls tonight, which is the eighth of Louise Erdrich's interconnected Ojibwe books. Though we (re)read the first three in order, we then skipped to this one because Erdrich had originally intended it to be the second half of book #3, Tracks. It was a good choice, because the books are closely interconnected.

Thankfully, this book was also a lot more enjoyable than Tracks. Where the first book was really weighed down by despair and awful things and an unpleasant insane person, Four Souls instead is about broken people who all contain valuable elements within them. It also placed a much stronger focus on Nanapush, a trickster, who I of course loved. I had a great voice for him too (because I was reading this aloud to Kimberly, of course), and I'm very sad that it'll disappear as the months go by, as do all of my unique voices for people who I don't meet soon enough again.

I was somewhat concerned about Four Souls because it was the first of Erdrich's books that I'd read after her separation from her husband, who was heavily involved in the first five. Happily, the good elements of her writing seem to have survived. (I didn't see the interconnected, interweaving stories that show up most in Love Medicine, but that could be just because she's writing novels now, not short stories.)

Anyway, quite an enjoyable book, and one that enthuses me to continue reading her past the five books I know.
shannon_a: (Default)
K. & I just finished reading Tracks by Louise Erdrich, and generally it was the book of hers that I've had the most mixed feelings about.

First of all, I was surprised that I don't think I've read it. I thought I'd read all of her first five books, but there was so much in this that was totally a surprise that I increasingly think I didn't. And, there was enough that I didn't like in this book, that I think I would have remembered.

My biggest problem in Tracks is the character Pauline, who becomes increasingly insane, unbalanced, and unpleasant as the book goes on. K. liked her at times because of her unpredictability, but I never did after very early in the book when she (one presumes) is scarred for life by rape and murder. Sadly, Pauline narrates all the even-numbered chapters in this nine-chapter book.

However, there was a lot I liked in the book too. It's set from 1912-1924 in the same Indian reservation as Erdrich's other books, and it makes a remarkably good prequel to Erdrich's Love Medicine without actually being obvious about it. But the main characters in Tracks are among the parents of the main characters in Love Medicine and the divides among the families in Love Medicine are explained and setup in Tracks.

So, I would have really liked it if not for Pauline (and perhaps for too much other unpleasantness and sadness and not enough of the humor that came forth in Erdrich's earlier works).

Erdrich has since written another book called Four Souls which continues directly on from Tracks (and which Erdrich wanted to make the other half of the book when she reprinted it). K. and I wanted to read that right away, but now I need to cleanse my palette a bit. So we're going to read some shorts by Butcher and Poe and then return to Erdrich in a week or two.
shannon_a: (Default)
Today Kimberly & I finished reading aloud the second of Louise Erdrich's books, The Beet Queen. Like Love Medicine, many parts of this new book were published individually as short stories. However, it's a much more cohesive story than Love Medicine, and I think the whole work really benefits as a result. Yet, it still holds onto some of the advantages of short stories: a number of the chapters (particularly the early ones) have real kick to them. But everything also continually builds on itself.

The structure of the story is also entirely intriguing, as it spirals through numerous characters, sometimes jumping back in time to tell one character's point of view on events we've already seen from another. It's used to best effect in the last several chapters which all circle around one day in 1972.

I also find the themes of the book quite interesting. It's about nature versus nurture, how some aspects come from how we were born and some from how we were raised. It's about shared misery, and how it can jump from person to person like a plague. It's about the webs that connect us together into society, how they can fray and come back together. And finally it's about the secrets we each hold inside, how we can never truly know why someone did the things they did.

Anyway, fine book. I'm quite looking forward to Tracks, though I've read it before too. We'll start it in a couple of months.
shannon_a: (Default)
Just finished reading Love Medicine aloud with Kimberly. We've been working on it for about a month, which is our typical read-aloud speed. This was my second read of Love Medicine, the first being somewhere in the 1999-2001 range. I remembered very little of it, which is my usual experience with books that I've read more than a couple of years ago.

Love Medicine is a collection of short stories centering on several families in an Indian reservation in North Dakota. Erdrich has somewhat angrily declaimed that the book is a novel, not a collection of short stories, but, well, it is what it is. There's certainly been effort made to connect everything together in an interesting way, especially in the second edition, and the whole is surely greater than its parts, but on the other hand it's also a set of a dozen or so stories and only the last few really dovetail things together to any large degree.

As with my last read, I quite adore the book. It's smart, touching, and full of interesting people. It offers up an often heartbreaking, but always honest-feeling look at an modern Indians. It also has a very interesting plot structure (if you do consider it as a book-length piece). It starts at the end, circles through the beginning, then returns full circle. And I don't mean that it's just a framed story. Everything builds on everything.

Kimberly and I are planning to read through this series over time. I've previously read through the first five of Erdrich's novels set in this area of North Dakota, but there's now at least 10 of them. I'm looking forward both to what I've read before and the new ones.

I expect we'll start the next in a couple of months, as we're reading Soldier of Arrete next, and then probably Dresden #7.

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