Tales of Burning Love

Tales of Burning Love

by Louise Erdrich


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060928360
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/28/1997
Series: Harper Perennial
Pages: 464
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.04(d)

About the Author

Louise Erdrich is the author of fifteen novels as well as volumes of poetry, children’s books, short stories, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel The Round House won the National Book Award for Fiction. The Plague of Doves won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and her debut novel, Love Medicine, was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Erdrich has received the Library of Congress Prize in American Fiction, the prestigious PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. She lives in Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.


Minneapolis, Minnesota

Date of Birth:

June 7, 1954

Place of Birth:

Little Falls, Minnesota


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.


"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.


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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Tales of Burning Love 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Brilliantly written, Lousie's talent overflows off each page! I will read this book again and again.
llm822 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another great book by Louise Erdrich. Lots of storylines from previous books converge and are seen here from new perspectives. Love it!!
bookishbunny on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was different from what I expected. I really enjoyed it. It was optisitic without the over-sentimentality into which so many 'relationship' based stories fall.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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'.