Erdrich is a fearless and inventive writer. In her fictional world, the mystical can emerge from the everyday, the comic turn suddenly tragic, and violence and beauty inhabit a single emotional landscape. Each character in these stories is full of surprises, and the twists and leaps of Erdrich's imagination are made all the more meaningful by the deeper truth of human feeling that underlies them.
In "Saint Marie," the ardent longing that propels a fourteen-year-old Indian girl up the hill to the Sacred Heart Convent and into a life-and-death struggle with the diabolical Sister Leopolda fuels a story of breathtaking power and originality. "Knives" tells of a homely butcher's assistant, a devoted reader of love stories, who falls for a good-looking predator, a traveling salesman, with devastating consequences for each of them. "Le Mooz" evokes the stinging flames of passion in old age"Margaret had exhausted three husbands, and Nanapush had outlived his six wives"with unexpected humor that turns suddenly bittersweet at the story's close. A passion for music in "Naked Woman Playing Chopin" proves more powerful than any experience of carnal or spiritual love; indeed, when Agnes DeWitt removes her clothing to enter the music of a particular composer, she sweeps all before her and transcends mortality and time itself.
In The Red Convertible, readers can follow the evolution of narrative styles, the shifts and metamorphoses in Erdrich's fiction, over the past thirty years. These stories, spellbinding in their boldness and beauty, are a stunning literary achievement.
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.
Date of Birth:June 7, 1954
Place of Birth:Little Falls, Minnesota
Education:B.A., Dartmouth College, 1976; M.A., Johns Hopkins University, 1979
Read an Excerpt
The Red Convertible
Selected and New Stories, 1978-2008
By Louise Erdrich
Copyright © 2009
All right reserved.
Chapter One The Red Convertible
I was the first one to drive a convertible on my reservation. And of course it was red, a red Olds. I owned that car along with my brother Stephan. We owned it together until his boots filled with water on a windy night and he bought out my share. Now Stephan owns the whole car and his younger brother Marty (that's myself) walks everywhere he goes.
How did I earn enough money to buy my share in the first place? My one talent was I could always make money. I had a touch for it, unusual in a Chippewa and especially in my family. From the first I was different that way and everyone recognized it. I was the only kid they let in the Rolla legion hall to shine shoes, for example, and one Christmas I sold spiritual bouquets for the Mission door-to-door. The nuns let me keep a percentage. Once I started, it seemed the more money I made the easier the money came. Everyone encouraged it. When I was fifteen I got a job washing dishes at the Joliet Café, and that was where my first big break came.
It wasn't long before I was promoted to busing tables, and then the short-order cook quit and I was hired to take her place. No sooner than you know it I was managing the Joliet. The rest is history. I went on managing. I soon became part-owner and of course there was no stopping me then. It wasn't long before the whole thing was mine.
After I'd owned the Joliet one year it burned down. The whole operation. I was only twenty. I had it all and I lost it quick, but before I lost it I had every one of my relatives, and their relatives, to dinner and I also bought that red Olds I mentioned, along with Stephan.
that time we first saw it! I'll tell you when we first saw it. We had gotten a ride up to Winnipeg and both of us had money. Don't ask me why because we never mentioned a car or anything, we just had all our money. Mine was cash, a big bankroll. Stephan had two checks-a week's extra pay for being laid off, and his regular check from the Jewel Bearing Plant.
We were walking down Portage anyway, seeing the sights, when we saw it. There it was, parked, large as alive. Really as if it was alive. I thought of the word "repose" because the car wasn't simply stopped, parked, or whatever. That car reposed, calm and gleaming, a for sale sign in its left front window. Then before we had thought it over at all, the car belonged to us and our pockets were empty. We had just enough money for gas back home.
We went places in that car, me and Stephan. A little bit of insurance money came through from the fire and we took off driving all one whole summer. I can't tell you all the places we went to. We started off toward the Little Knife River and Mandaree in Fort Berthold and then we found ourselves down in Wakpala somehow and then suddenly we were over in Montana on the Rocky Boys and yet the summer was not even half over. Some people hang on to details when they travel, but we didn't let them bother us and just lived our everyday lives here to there.
I do remember there was this one place with willows; however, I laid under those trees and it was comfortable. So comfortable. The branches bent down all around me like a tent or a stable. And quiet, it was quiet, even though there was a dance close enough so I could see it going on. It was not too still, or too windy either, that day. When the dust rises up and hangs in the air around the dancers like that I feel comfortable. Stephan was asleep. Later on he woke up and we started driving again. We were somewhere in Montana, or maybe on the Blood Reserve, it could have been anywhere. Anyway, it was where we met the girl.
all her hair was in buns around her ears, that's the first thing I saw. She was alongside the road with her arm out so we stopped. That girl was short, so short her lumbershirt looked comical on her, like a nightgown. She had jeans on and fancy moccasins and she carried a little suitcase.
"Hop on in," says Stephan. So she climbs in between us.
"We'll take you home," I says, "Where do you live?"
"Chicken," she says.
"Where's that?" I ask her.
"Okay," Stephan says, and we drive.
We got up there and never wanted to leave. The sun doesn't truly set there in summer and the night is more a soft dusk. You might doze off, sometimes, but before you know it you're up again, like an animal in nature. You never feel like you have to sleep hard or put away the world. And things would grow up there. One day just dirt or moss, the next day flowers and long grass. The girl's family really took to us. They fed us and put us up. We had our own tent to live in by their house and the kids would be in and out of there all day and night.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Normally I don't enjoy reading short stories but this collection held my interest from beginning to end. It might be because I can somewhat identify with the author; she makes use of vocabulary from the Ojibwe language and I'm part Potawatomi and have briefly studied our language--the two are very similar and that adds richness to the reading for me. Most of her Ojibwe words the reader will understand from their use within the sentence but at times I thought a glossary might have been helpful.
Erdrich¿s collection of 36 short stories spans 30 years of her writing career. Most were previously published elsewhere, but the collection also contains 6 new stories. Covering the breadth of her career as they do, the stories reveal the development of her distinct writing style, as well as the evolution of her chosen themes, all set within her own distinctly realistic, though fictional, world. The majority of Erdrich¿s characters are Native American, and many of the stories take place on or near an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. Her vivid characters all struggle to endure life¿s harshness, while finding small moments of joy and redemption in the quotidian things around them. Those familiar with Erdrich¿s novels will rediscover old friends in these stories, and find in some of them the seeds that germinated into those full-length novels. Earthy, spiritual, and utterly mesmerizing, these stories are at once distinct and also part of the same interlocking whole. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys a well-crafted short story!
“The Red Convertible” (Erdrich, 2003, p. 1028) is centered between the relationship of two brothers. Lyman Lamartine, who narrates the story, lives on a Native American Reservation. Lyman talks about his experiences as he embraces and keeps alive the memorable and unforgettable times he had with his brother, Henry. One of the strongest points in Lyman’s character is his compassionate and caring personality. Although life was going well for Lyman, he portrays to be jealous and mischievous at times. In spite of this, he faces a terrible devastation at the end, for he is surprisingly unaware of the worst, shocking tragedy yet to come. The significance of the story’s correlation between the car and the brothers become apparent after the car comes into the scene. The car’s most powerful contribution relates to the bonding between the brothers and the passion for the car. Therefore, symbolism plays a role between the relationship of the brothers and the attraction for the car. Later on in the story, revenge and jealousy emerges as Lyman gets the cold shoulder from Henry after Henry’s return from military training. Lyman angrily lashes out as he destroys the car, but their relationship becomes mended after Henry fixes the car back to normal and all is well. After the relationship was restored, Lyman and Henry decided to go to the river. The drive over there was exhilarating for the brothers; the air smelled fresh and the car sounded smooth. Lyman could sense Henry’s contentment by his facial expressions. They experienced a rejuvenating bonding that day. Things appear to be going great, but the story takes a turn after their arrival. They finally arrived at the river. Henry and Lyman step out of the car, bicker for a while, and finally say their apologies. Then, the change starts to happen when Henry decides to take a drink of alcohol. After a little while, Henry starts to feeling good. He starts dancing, laughing, joking, and acting silly. He complains of feeling hot, so he submerges himself into the water. Suddenly, Lyman observes Henry being quickly taken away by the fast flowing water and debris. Lyman abruptly leaps into the river hoping to save his defenseless brother. Unfortunately, it is too late. The sad part of the story is when Henry drifts away and is "gone" (Erdrich, 2003, p. 1034) forever. To this end, Lyman who is torn with devastation and hopelessness, gets out of the river water, proceeds to the car and starts it. He then advances the car into the water and steps out as Lyman clarifies, "I get out, close the door, and watch it plow softly into the water" (Erdrich, 2003, p. 1034). All he hears now is the sound of the water moving swiftly. Works Cited Erdrich, L. (2003). The Red Convertible. In Sylvan Barnet et al (Eds.). Literature for Composition. (6th ed). (pp. 1028-1034). New York: Longman.
If you like short stories, this is the book for you. Yes, Louise Erdrich is a great novel writer, but her short stories are just as good if not better. They are are full of character and voice that makes you want to continue reading.