Tales of Burning Love

( 3 )

Overview

In her boldest and most darkly humorous novel yet, award-winning, critically acclaimed and bestselling novelist Louise Erdrich tells the intimate and powerful stories of five Great Plains women whose lives are connected through one man.

Stranded in a North Dakota blizzard, Jack Mauser's former wives huddle for warmth and pass the endless night by remembering the stories of how each came to love, marry and ultimately move beyond Jack. At times painful, at times heartbreaking and ...

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Overview

In her boldest and most darkly humorous novel yet, award-winning, critically acclaimed and bestselling novelist Louise Erdrich tells the intimate and powerful stories of five Great Plains women whose lives are connected through one man.

Stranded in a North Dakota blizzard, Jack Mauser's former wives huddle for warmth and pass the endless night by remembering the stories of how each came to love, marry and ultimately move beyond Jack. At times painful, at times heartbreaking and often times comic, their tales become the adhesive that holds them together in their love for Jack and in their lives as women.

Erdrich, with her characteristic powers of observation and luminescent prose, brings these women's unforgettable stories to life with astonishing candor and warmth. Filled with keen perceptions about the apparatus for survival, the force of passion and the necessity of hope, Tales of Burning Love is a tour de force from one of the most formidable American writers at work today.

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Editorial Reviews

Kate Moses

What a facile, hokey shaggy dog story Louise Erdrich has churned out in her sixth work of fiction! Tales of Burning Love, despite its over-the-top title, begins promisingly -- with a revisitation of the flashback opening of Erdrich's remarkable first book, Love Medicine. Again June Kashpaw walks to her death in a freak snowstorm the day before Easter, but this time her story is recalled by hapless Jack Mauser, the man who'd married her in a bar just hours before, and who, after June's death, goes on to marry four more women. Jack's wives, their relationships with him and with each other, form the foundation on which the novel's story is built. But this is spongy ground, destabilized by Erdrich's seemingly wholesale rejection of her gifts for enduring characterizations and clarified lyricism. Instead, we're offered characters that remain flat and prose that is more so, and Erdrich's familiar wild leaps of imagination and black humor are exaggerated into hopelessly earnest, bathetic melodrama.

Another snowstorm, this one following Jack's absurdist funeral (he's assumed incinerated after his house burns down, the ashy remains of a side of beef identified as what's left of his body), traps Jack's four latest ex-wives and a mysterious stranger for an all-night storytelling and stale-candy-eating session in a stranded car. A cartoonish brawl of old rivalries among the women prompts the gimmicky tales of burning love, a rash of stories so lurid and silly that they seem to keep the characters awake out of sheer embarrassment for the author.

Everyone survives, of course, including Jack, who never was dead at all, although there are a few other successful cremations sprinkled throughout the book, as well as assorted weepy psychological epiphanies and miracles. Yet the biggest miracle is that any of these women ever fall for a character as unappealing as Jack. His airless personality is summed up beautifully by his priceless reaction to the news that two of his ex-wives have formed a couple and are jointly raising the baby son born to his fourth spouse: "So his son would grow up around a double set of gorgeous breasts -- once precious to Jack, now breasts that lived proudly, on their own terms, with other breasts." At least we can be reassured that Erdrich still offers flashes of humor -- whether she knows it or not. -- Salon

Kirkus Reviews
Erdrich opens her sprawling and ambitious new novel with the same haunting episode that began Love Medicine (1984): A young Chippewa woman gets out of a car and walks through a snowstorm to her death—but this time we see it all through the eyes of the man who was with her in that car.

Jack Mauser never lets go of the memory of June Kashpaw vanishing into the North Dakota snow. He considers her his first wife, though he was were married to her in a dubious ceremony and they knew each other for less than a day. Jack goes on to collect—and be dumped by—four more wives: brainy and passionate Eleanor; brittle Candice; beautiful, low-life Marlis; and, finally, stolid Dot (a child in The Beet Queen, 1986), who's fond of Jack but, deep down, still loves her "real" husband, imprisoned Gerry Nanapush. All four ex-wives are forced together when Jack's house burns down. He's presumed dead, though the evidence is inconclusive, and after a funeral service, the four women drive off together into a howling blizzard. When their car gets stuck in a remote spot, it seems they could easily meet June Kashpaw's fate—and in fact the specter of June could be among them in the form of a mysterious, silent hitchhiker whom Dot has insisted on picking up. Erdrich has a lot of fun probing the possibilities of four ex-wives trapped together with all their small rivalries and disappointments—and some of their most heartfelt secrets—revealed to one another. But despite some great moments, it all goes on much too long as the women tell their detailed but not always compelling life stories. There's just too much material going in too many different directions to keep the storyline taut. Still, there are good surprises—the hitchhiker's true identity is one—and Erdrich's prose shines as brilliantly as ever.

Maybe not quite tales of burning love, but definitely plenty of smoke.

From Barnes & Noble
This darkly humorous tale relates the intimate and powerful stories of five Great Plains women stranded together in a blizzard whose lives are connected through one man. By the author of Love Medicine.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060928360
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/28/1997
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 464
  • Sales rank: 1,427,828
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich is the author of fourteen novels as well as volumes of poetry, short stories, children's books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel The Round House won the 2012 National Book Award. She lives in Minnesota, where she owns the bookstore Birchbark Books.

Biography

Award-winning novelist Louise Erdrich grew up in North Dakota, the oldest of seven children born to a Chippewa mother and a father of German-American descent. She graduated from Dartmouth College in 1976 and Johns Hopkins University in 1979, supporting herself with a variety of jobs, including lifeguard, waitress, teacher, and construction flag signaler. She began her literary career as a poet and short story writer and won awards in both fields.

In the late 1970s, Erdrich began a unique collaboration with Michael Dorris, a Native American writer and teacher she met at Dartmouth and married in 1981. In a creative partnership that endured throughout most of their 14-year marriage, each writer exerted a profound influence on the other's work. Although their names appear in tandem on the cover of only two books, Route Two (1990) and The Crown of Columbus (1991), literally everything either one produced during this time was a collaborative effort. In 1995, after a series of tragic setbacks, the couple separated; two years later, Dorris committed suicide.

From the beginning, Erdrich has translated her mixed blood ancestry into chronicles of astonishing power and range. Her bestselling debut novel, the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award winner Love Medicine, is a series of interrelated stories about several generations of Chippewas living on or near a North Dakota reservation. Spanning most of the 20th century, the book dispenses with any sort of chronological time line and borrows narrative conventions from Native American oral tradition. Several subsequent novels pick up characters, incidents, and narrative threads from Love Medicine to form an interconnected story cycle.

In her novels, Erdrich explores complex issues of family, personal identity, and cultural survival among full- and mixed-blood Native Americans, delving into mythology and tradition to extract what is both specific and universal. She has been known to rework material, incorporating short stories into long fiction, rewriting, and revising constantly. She continues to write poetry and is the author of several children's books, as well as a memoir of early motherhood and a travel book. She is also a founder of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis, where she now lives.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Louise Karen Erdrich (full name; pronounced "air-drik")
    2. Hometown:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 7, 1954
    2. Place of Birth:
      Little Falls, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      B.A., Dartmouth College, 1976; M.A., Johns Hopkins University, 1979

Read an Excerpt

Tales of Burning Love
A Novel

Chapter One

Jack ofSunflowers

Easter Snow1981Williston, North Dakota

Holy Saturday in an oil boomtown with no insurance. Toothache. From his rent-by-the-week motel unit, Jack Mauser called six numbers. His jawbone throbbed, silver-fine needles sank and disappeared. A handful of aspirin was no help. A rock, maybe better—something to bang his head against. He tried, he tried, but he could not get numb. The stray cat he had allowed to sleep in the bathtub eased against his pants legs. He kept on dialing and redialing until at last a number was answered by a chipper voice. Uncalled for, his thought was, wrong. Perky traits in a dental office receptionist. He craved compassion, lavish pity. He described his situation, answered questions, begged for an appointment although he had no real stake in the town—he was no more than temporary, a mud engineer due for a transfer. Today! Please? He heard pages rustle, gum snap. The cat stretched, tapped his knee with a sheathed paw, and fixed its eyes on Jack's lap where it had been petted. Jack cuffed at the stray. The orange-striped tom batted him back, playful.

"Mr. Mauser?"

The voice was sly, as though asking him a trick question. Air would hit the tooth, still he opened his mouth to plead and stood up, dizzy from too much aspirin. Just then, the cat, determined, launched itself straight upward to climb Jack like a tree. It sank thick razor claws a half inch deep into Jack's thigh. Hung there.

Jack screamed into the telephone. The claws clenched in panic, and Jack, whirling in an awful dance, ripped the cat from his legs and threw the creature with such force thatit bounced off a wall, but twisted over and came up strolling. No loss of dignity.

There was silence on the other end of the connection, and then the voice, less chipper.

"Are you experiencing discomfort?"

Jack whimpered as a muffled consultation took place, her hand presumably clapped over the receiver.

"The doctor will make room for you in his schedule." The voice was solemn. "About an hour from now?"

On his way to an unknown dentist, holes punched in his thigh, his jaw a throbbing lump he wanted to saw off his face, Jack sought temporary anesthesia. He was tall, in his early thirties, and the pain gave him an air of concentration. Otherwise, he didn't stand out much except for his eyes, a deeper slanting brown than most, or his hands, very rough but still attentive to the things they touched. His grim self-sorry mouth. From inside the Rigger Bar, he watched the street. A woman passing by outside briefly struck a light inside of him—her hips, full-not-too-full, bare cold hands, taut legs. He hit the window with his knuckles, caught her attention, saluted. As she walked in, he wasn't sure about her. But then, there she was, slim in a white leatherette jacket, hair a dark teased mass, delicate Chippewa face scarred by drink.

She watched him peel an Easter egg, blue, her eyes sad in harsh makeup, then her face relaxed. She sat down beside him and shifted her legs, lightly crossed one thigh over the other to make that V shape.

"What's wrong with you?" she asked.

"Toothache."

"Too bad." She put a finger on the pack of cigarettes he laid down between them, arched her eyebrows, plucked one cigarette out, and held it poised for him to light. He nodded. She grinned awkwardly and bummed another for her purse. The flare of his cardboard match warmed the smooth rounds of her cheekbones, lit the slight crinkle of laugh lines around her moody eyes. She had a pretty smile—one tooth, a little crooked, overlapped. He put his hand out She drew back.

She drew back.

"Does it hurt much?"

"This'll help."

He drank from the unhurt side of his mouth and then he ordered a beer for her.

"Better yet," she turned from him. "This old Ojibwa remedy? You take a clove in your mouth."

"I hate cloves."

"Well, you gotta suffer then," she laughed.

Besides, he felt better halfway through the second drink. "Cloves, aren't they from Europe or something?"

"Okay, maybe. Horseweed. You pinch it up like this"—she rolled imaginary lint between her fingers—"stuff it all around that tooth. Deadens it."

She took an egg, dyed blue like the one he'd been peeling when she walked in the door. She shucked and ate it quickly, he noticed, while the bartender had his back turned. Right off, he knew that she was from his mother's home reservation, just by little things she did and said.

"All right!" He stood up. He felt so much better he could not believe it.

"That doesn't work," she started on another egg, "you take a hammer . . ."

"Oh, Christ, don't tell me." But he was unaffected, feeling the pain but not caring anymore. There was just a buoyant ease he'd have to monitor, control so it did not shoot him skyward too quickly. So it did not send him whirling, like the cat.

"I have a cat."

"What's its name?"

"Doesn't have a name."

"If you had a cat, it would have a name."

She took a long drink, held the liquor in her mouth, swallowed.

"I have a son," she said, after a few moments.

Jack didn't want to touch that.

"We'll go back to my motel. The cat's lonely there. I've got a whole, ah, suite—we'll visit him. He clawed my leg this morning." Jack pointed.

"Where?" She laughed suddenly, a little painfully, too hard. Stopped when Jack stared overlong at her.

"Come on, let's go check the cat."

"No way." She looked serious, put down her drink. "I've got a bus to catch."

"Where you going?"

Her gaze flickered up to his and then held steady.

"Home."

It was later, much later, the dental appointment missed. She refused again to visit the cat but went along with him as he made his rounds. One bar, the next. By then she maybe knew who he was although he lied and said that he did not know his mother's maiden name, or his grandmother's. His family would say too much to the woman, make her wary of him. So he pretended that he was adopted, taken out of the tribe too young to remember.

"Raised white?" She frowned.

"Don't I look it?"

"You act it. How's your tooth?"

It came to life, a flare of anguish.

"I need another drink. A double. I drink like an Indian though, huh?"

Mistake. She didn't think that was funny, didn't laugh. After a bit, she asked somebody next to her the time and frowned gently, troubled.

"I missed my bus, Andy."

"My fault." He had given her a fake name. "Here, you need a refill too."

Her hair was long, fine, slightly wavy, caught up in a cheap clip. He reached around and undid the barrette. At once, electric, her hair billowed around her face in a dark cloud. Storm's rising. He closed his eyes, imagined it falling in blowing scarves around his own face as her mouth lowered to meet his. Her hidden mouth. He kept wanting to press his finger on her tooth, line it up with the others. It would require an ever so slight tap. Her mouth was even prettier than when she first smiled—as she relaxed a deep curve formed in her lower lip. Very sad, though, her eyes watching him so close sometimes. He put away his money.

"Hey," she mumbled, once. "You got to be."

He did not want to ask her what, but he did, tightening his arm around her. She would have told him anyway.

"You got to be different," she breathed.

He pretended not to hear.

"I know you," she said, louder. "You're the one. You're him."

He shrugged off her words. The afternoon darkened and the beer lamps went on—bright colors, wagons and horses, fake Tiffany. Still, they kept drinking. They kept drinking and then they met up with some people. They got hungry, or needed something to do, anyway. They went out to eat. Steak, baked potato, salad with French dressing. She ordered these things in a shy voice, polite, saying thank you when the waitress set them down before her. As she put the first taste of meat in her mouth, she sighed, tried not to gulp it too quickly, put her fork down every second bite. She was hardly drinking anything by then. He caught her gaze once. His face was falling toward hers. Falling. Her face was still, a waiting pool, regarding him with kindness. The hard lines around her eyes had smudged into a softer mystery. Eyes half closed, she smiled over at him, and, suddenly, he realized she was the most precious, the most beautiful, the most extraordinary treasure of a woman he had ever known.

"Jack." A buddy of his, a roommate sometimes, nudged him. "Your squaw called you Andy."

"Shut up. You're an asshole."

Laughter. Laughter.

"We're leaving."

"Aw, c'mon."

"No hard feelings." Tales of Burning Love
A Novel
. Copyright (c) by Louise Erdrich . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2009

    Best book I have read in a long time.

    Brilliantly written, Lousie's talent overflows off each page! I will read this book again and again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2001

    Love,losses and money

    I quess it is hard to publish such a book when your past is burned. The big love is not dead and no fairy prince no in reality he is a hard drinking social looser. Then the decision may be the future of the five kids... And so the story goes: you get involved in a financial crime against your own past and everthing you stood for. Then it turns out that the big looser is no total fool and the future of your and your kids life may be destroyed. Hopefully the hard drinking nothing has still ' cold hands but a warm heart'.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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