Unexpected Connections: Reading Louise Erdrich

Most books that take place with the same characters are sold as “prequels,” “sequels,” or “sagas.” Not Louise Erdrich. A substantial number of her books take place in the same place, and are cast by characters from the same families.

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I wasn’t expecting that. When I read “Love Medicine,” it was a lovely novel, of course. And when I picked up “Tracks,” I was excited to read more of her work. But the names started sounding familiar, started bugging me. I grabbed “Love Medicine” and looked at the family tree inside. Sure enough, there were the names of the characters in this other novel.

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These books aren’t, as far as I know, sold in a box set. They don’t need to be read together. But when you read one (and “The Antelope Wife,” at least, is also about the same couple of families) it adds a layer of depth to the others that you never suspected. You get to understand the characters by witnessing their histories. Where they came from. Where they’re going. That’s the beauty of a shared universe, as opposed to a series: in a series books have to follow after each other. But in the shared universe that Louise Erdirch has created, everything is interconnected, everyone is linked to everyone else. And from those links rise the stories.

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When You Want The Book To Do More

A Tale For the Person Who Is Living In Time NOT A Tale For This Moment.

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Lack of a payoff. That’s the problem with  a lot of final acts. Anyone who’s ever watched a lot of Doctor Who will know what I’m talking about: it’s when the promise of the first part is so high, and the conclusion at the end leaves you asking for more.

It starts off interesting: two narratives, points of view. One a reader, the other being read. And then a third enters the mix: a series of letters written decades ago.

The time shifts around. The place is complex. An the voices ring clear.

And then it doesn’t come together. There’s no alignment of the planets, no awe-inducing conclusion that pulls it all together. In fact, just the opposite: the pieces intentionally fail to connect too closely. And I suspect that’s exactly with Ruth Ozeki was hoping for. Something that denies final climax, and ending that’s messy. For better or worse.

Guilt, Memory, and What In The Hell Is With This Title?

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We all face our demons eventually, no matter how far we run, because wherever we go we take them with us. We can stay in the same place our whole lives, or we can run to the other side of the planet. It won’t matter.

This absurdly named novel is about two sets of “twins”: a pair of conjoined twins who are part of a freak show for their deformity, and two men who loved the same woman in South Africa. There’s hate running deep in such close relationships. There’s pain that only Chris Abani could make us understand.

We’re all human, no matter whether we have a distorted mockery of a human body attached to our stomach, or we committed crimes against humanity. Everything we do, whether it is torture or salvation, is inescapably human. So in the end, every human has to face themselves, and the people who love them.

But seriously, what publisher came up with this title?

Ripples and “The Lowland”

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We don’t understand where we came from. None of us. The events that went into beginning our lives, setting the stages on which we grew up–making us who we are–are beyond our control. We’re all ripples, emanating out from a stone we may not even know exists.

Those ripples are what Jhumpa Lahiri traces in “The Lowland.” How a single event can be created by circumstance, how it can trigger a whole world of other circumstances, other lives. How a few minutes can change the world forever.

I don’t know much about the historical period the novel covers. I don’t know about the social situations the characters find themselves in. But we can all understand the ripples of life.