Monday, January 19, 2009

'The Red Convertible: Selected and New Stories' by Louise Erdrich

By Beth Kephart
January 17, 2009
Found at the Chicago Tribune

It was Louise Erdrich's fault that I fell back in love with fiction. I speak of years ago and the opening pages of "The Beet Queen." I speak of "Love Medicine" and "Tracks." I could not get enough of the odd modifiers, the unglossed people, the immaculate tattling on about butchers and knives peddlers, weigh-shack employees and sink holes, Jell-O salads prettied up with sliced radishes, 24 fried fantail shrimp on a bed of coleslaw. It was all so quirky, also authentic. It was so tumbled down and awkwardly fine, and it didn't matter who was talking—male or female, child or adult, love bruised or love infatuated. Erdrich got it right. Laughing, I read her. Amazed, I couldn't set her down.

"The Red Convertible: Selected and New Stories" is Erdrich's compendium of greatest hits—30 familiar stories (many of which formed the backbones of her multi-narrator novels) and six not previously published ones. The short story, Erdrich tells us in her too-brief preface, is where her novels often begin, where ideas "gather force and weight and complexity." So Mary and Karl, the abandoned children of "The Blue Velvet Box," could not be left alone once they stowed away on a freight train in the spring of 1932. Karl would go west, and Mary east. Mary would stay right where she landed, in that place called Argus, in that life of sausage stuffing and butchering. Karl would return, years later, "fine boned, slick, agreeable, and dressed to kill in his sharp black suit, winy vest, knotted brown tie." They'd keep showing up in short stories—changed, familiar, irresistible—until a novel had been webbed together of the most immaculate parts.

Erdrich's stories don't grow old. They grow more astonishing for how fresh they still feel, packaged this way, wide, wrinkly, back-to-back. You only have to read the first story, which is also the title story, to get a whiff of authorial wizardry—to understand that Erdrich is, in the space of 10 pages, going to give you not just a whole family and the way they talk, but the way they hurt and the way they almost heal one another. She's going to give you one line, "My boots are filling," that is going to go and break your heart. She warns you. You follow. You fall.

To read the entire review by Beth Kephart, please click here.

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