The Painted Drum

The Painted Drum

3.6 12
by Louise Erdrich

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When a woman named Faye Travers is called upon to appraise the estate of a family in her small New Hampshire town, she isn't surprised to discover a forgotten cache of valuable Native American artifacts. After all, the family descends from an Indian agent who worked on the North Dakota Ojibwe reservation that is home to her mother's family. However, she stops dead

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When a woman named Faye Travers is called upon to appraise the estate of a family in her small New Hampshire town, she isn't surprised to discover a forgotten cache of valuable Native American artifacts. After all, the family descends from an Indian agent who worked on the North Dakota Ojibwe reservation that is home to her mother's family. However, she stops dead in her tracks when she finds in the collection a rare drum -- a powerful yet delicate object, made from a massive moose skin stretched across a hollow of cedar, ornamented with symbols she doesn't recognize and dressed in red tassels and a beaded belt and skirt -- especially since, withouttouching the instrument, she hears it sound.

From Faye's discovery, we trace the drum's passage both backward and forward in time, from the reservation on the northern plains to New Hampshire and back. Through the voice of Bernard Shaawano, an Ojibwe, we hear how his grandfather fashioned the drum after years of mourning his young daughter's death, and how it changes the lives of those whose paths its crosses. And through Faye we hear of her anguished relationship with a local sculptor, who himself mourns the loss of a daughter, and of the life she has made alone with her mother, in the shadow of the death of Faye's sister.

Through these compelling voices, The Painted Drum explores the strange power that lost children exert on the memories of those theyleave behind, and as the novel unfolds, its elegantly crafted narrative comes to embody the intricate, transformative rhythms of human grief. One finds throughout the grace and wit, the captivating prose and surprising beauty, that characterize Louise Erdrich's finest work.

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Editorial Reviews

Donna Riftkind
With fearlessness and humility, in a narrative that flows more artfully than ever between destruction and rebirth, Erdrich has opened herself to possibilities beyond what we merely see -- to the dead alive and busy, to the breath of trees and the souls of wolves -- and inspires readers to open their hearts to these mysteries as well.
— The Washington Post
Benjamin Markovits
Fictionalized worlds, like Roth's Newark or Erdrich's Ojibwa reservation, can reach a critical mass: at a certain point, each new story serves to generate heat. They no longer have to prove their life, and we are grateful for every addition.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Though Erdrich's latest lyrical novel returns to Ojibwe territory (Four Souls; Love Medicine, etc.), it departs from the concentrated vigor of her best work in its breadth of storytelling. Erdrich essays the grief that comes when the sins of parents become mortal for their children. Native American antiquities specialist Faye Travers, bereaved of her sister and father, ambivalently in love with a sculptor who has lost his wife and loses his daughter, stumbles onto a ceremonial drum when she handles the estate of John Jewett Tatro, whose grandfather was an agent at the Ojibwe reservation. Under its spell, she secrets it away and eventually repatriates it to that reservation on the northern plains-the home of her grandmother. The drum is revived, as are those around it. Gracefully weaving many threads, Erdrich details the multigenerational history surrounding the drum. Despite her elegant story and luminous prose, many of the characters feel sketchy compared to Erdrich's previous titans, and several redemptions seem too pat. But even at low voltage, Erdrich crafts a provocative read elevated by beautiful imagery, as when children near death fly off like skeletal ravens. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A large, rare ceremonial Ojibwe drum, a Native American artifact that Faye Travers discovers in an overpacked New Hampshire estate, serves as Erdrich's conduit to explore lives affected by the drum in the past and present, many of whom share histories with her earlier books. Each tale is drawn with lyricism and frankness, but the modern sections may be most compelling as her characters' plights become hauntingly real. Anna Fields is a familiar Erdrich reader and captures the nuances well, though her male voices are mumbled at times. A brief book that invites listeners to glimpse a rich array of lives; highly recommended.-Joyce Kessel, Villa Maria Coll., Buffalo, NY Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The eponymous Native American object vibrates powerfully-as both instrument and symbol-in this tenth volume in Erdrich's epic Ojibwe saga. The drum is found, in a New Hampshire farmhouse following a sudden death, by Faye Travers, a middleaged divorcee of mixed ethnic origin, whose complicated personal life dominates the novel's expository opening section. She's a former drug user, now living with her mother Elsie and sharing the duties of Elsie's "estates business"; the lover of a moody German sculptor, and an assiduous observer and considerer of birds, other natural phenomena and persistent memories of her younger sister Netta's accidental death in childhood. Reasoning that the drum-found among a white family's possessions-was "stolen from our own people," Faye absconds with it, then travels west with Elsie to the Ojibwe reservation to which they'll return it. The drum then "tells" its story, in three interconnected narratives. The first details the sundering of "old Shaawano's" family when his wife Anaquot, "burning" with love for another man, flees with her illegitimate baby and older daughter, inadvertently sacrificing a child's life to a pack of starving wolves. The second relates further consequences of Anaquot's folly, then tells how Shaawano, inspired and burdened by "visions" of a dead child, painstakingly fashions the drum ("a container for the spirit, just as if it were flesh and bone"). The third story reveals how, two generations later, the drum sounds again, and three children left alone in a freezing house and subsequently lost in frigid darkness, hear its "healing" music. Erdrich draws us into her exquisitely detailed world effortlessly, and even this novel's frequentexcesses of summary cannot blunt the power of its narrative ingenuity and luminous prose. The worlds of ancestry and tradition, humans and animals (notably, wolves and ravens), living and remembering and dreaming, are here rendered here with extraordinary clarity and insistent emotional impact. Hard to believe, but Erdrich just keeps getting better.
Washington Post Book World
“Haunted and haunting... With fearlessness and humility... [Erdrich] inspires readers to open their hearts.”
Christian Science Monitor
“This is simply a good book... Neatly etched characters, finely calibrated prose, and flashes of wisdom and wit throughout.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“One of her best novels... Erdrich’s writing has become richer, her voice wiser... She shies away from nothing.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Erdrich soars in scenes that are resonant, poetic and exact, visions that will remain imprinted on the reader’s mind.”
Philadelphia Inquirer
“Erdrich at her most accomplished. . . . Startling imagery and remarkable insights into love, foolishness, bravery and betrayal.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“A lovely addition . . . to a growing landscape as memorable and enduring as William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.
Providence Journal
“This is her best book yet.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Complex and graceful . . . Her most recent work shows Erdrich only becoming better with time.”
Denver Post
“A top-notch read and one of her finest efforts.”
New York Times Book Review
“A brilliant creation: it possesses the instantly persuasive strangeness of something faithful to life.”

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The Painted Drum LP

By Louise Erdrich

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Louise Erdrich
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060834293

Chapter One

Revival Road

Faye Travers

Leaving the child cemetery with its plain hand-lettered sign and stones carved into the weathered shapes of lambs and angels, I am lost in my thoughts and pause too long where the cemetery road meets the two-lane highway. This distraction seems partly age, but there is more too, I think. These days I consider and reconsider the slightest of choices, as if one might bring me happiness and the other despair. There is no right way. No true path. The more familiar the road, the easier I'm lost. Left and the highway snakes north, to our famous college town; but I turn right and am bound toward the poor and historical New England village of Stiles and Stokes with its great tender maples, its old radiating roads, a stern white belfry and utilitarian gas pump/grocery. Soon after the highway divides off. Uphill and left, a broad and well-kept piece of paving leads, as the trunk of a tree splits and diminishes, to ever narrower outgrowths of Revival Road. This is where we live, my mother and I, just where the road begins to tangle.

From the air, our road must look like a ball of rope flung down haphazardly, a thing of inscrutable loops and half-finished question marks. But there is order in it to reward the patient watcher. In the beginning, the road is paved, although the material is of a grade inferior to the main highway's asphalt. When the town votes swing toward committing more money to road upkeep, it is coated with light gravel. Over the course of a summer's heat, the bits of stone are pressed into the softened tar, making a smooth surface for the cars to pick up speed. By midwinter, the frost creeps beneath the road and flexes, creating heaves that force the cars to slow again. I'm glad when that happens, for children walk this road to the bus stop below. They walk past with their dogs, wearing puffy jackets of saturated brilliance -- hot pink, hot yellow, hot blue. They change shape and grow before my eyes, becoming the young drivers of fast cars who barely miss the smaller children, who, in their turn, grow up and drive away from here.

As I say, there is order, but the pattern is continually complicated by the wilds of occurrence. The story surfaces here, snarls there, as people live their disorder to its completion. My mother, Elsie, and I try to tack life down with observation. But if it takes a lifetime to see things clearly, and a lifetime beyond, even, perhaps only the religious dead have a true picture of our road. It is, after all, named for the flat field at its southern end that once hosted a yearly revival meeting. Those sweeping conversions resulted in the establishment of at least one or two churches that now seem before their time in charismatic zeal. Over the years they merged with newer denominations, but left their dead sharing earth with Universalists and Quakers and even utter nonbelievers. As for the living, we're trapped in scene after scene. We haven't the overview that the dead have attained. Still, I try to at least record connections. I try to find my way through our daily quarrels, surprises, and small events here on this road.

We were home doing pleasant domestic chores on a frozen Sunday in the dead of winter when there was a frantic beating at our door. In alarm, Elsie called me. I came rushing from the basement laundry to see a young man standing behind the glass of the back storm door, jacketless and shivering. I saw that he'd lost a finger from the hand he raised, and knew him as the Eyke boy, now grown, years past fooling with his father's chain saw. But not his father's new credit-bought car. Davan Eyke had sneaked his father's new automobile out for an illicit spin and lost control coming down off the hill beside our house. The car slid toward a steep gully lined with birch. By lucky chance, it came to rest pinned precisely between two trunks. The white birch trees now held the expensive and unpaid-for white car in a perfect vise. Not one dent. Not one silvery scratch. Not yet. It was Davan's hope that if I hooked a chain to my Subaru and backed up the hill I would be able to pull his car gently free.

My chain snapped, and the efforts of others only made things worse over the course of the afternoon. At the bottom of the road a collection of cars, trucks, equipment, and people gathered. As the car was unwedged, as it was rocked, yanked, pushed, and let go, as different ideas were tried and discarded, as the newness of the machine wore off, Davan saw his plan was lost and he began to despair. With empty eyes, he watched a dump truck winch his father's vehicle half free, then slam it flat on its side and drag it shrieking up a lick of gravel that the town road agent had laid down for traction. Over the years our town, famous for the softness and drama of its natural light, has drawn to itself artists from the large cities of the eastern seaboard. They have usually had some success in the marketplace, and can now afford the luxury of becoming reclusive. Since New Hampshire does not tax income, preferring a thousand other less effective ways to raise revenue, wealthy artists find themselves wealthier, albeit slightly bored. Depending on their surroundings for at least some company, they are forced to rely on those such as myself -- a former user of street drugs cured by hepatitis, a clothing store manager fired for lack of interest in clothes, a semi-educated art lover, writer of endless journals and tentative poetry, and, lastly, a partner in the estates business my mother started more than fifty years ago.


Excerpted from The Painted Drum LP by Louise Erdrich Copyright © 2005 by Louise Erdrich.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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