Of all the stories that have been told on this little globe we inhabit, there are few tales that entice me more than stories of revenge and retributioOf all the stories that have been told on this little globe we inhabit, there are few tales that entice me more than stories of revenge and retribution. I'm not talking the brooding tales of violent stoic men pushed beyond their limit by an underworld that destroys their single shot at happiness, but vengeance that takes plotting, manipulation and, most importantly, patience. While there's always room for a grim-faced avenger tossing murderous thugs through plate glass windows, the revenge stories that grip me are those who play the long game. I like anger that burns cold and steady instead of flaring out in a furious moment of cathartic rage. I like protagonists who keep the fires of their anger stoked low and steady, feeding them slowly and setting the scene just so before claiming their personal justice. Think Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo or Shoshanna Dreyfus in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds more than Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest or the battered heroes of a James Ellroy novel.
Such a protagonist is Fleur Pillager. Last of her proud line, the sole survivor of a smallpox outbreak when she was a small child, the final remaining tie she has to her family and her heritage is the land that had been left to her, vast acres of pristine untouched forests and an island in the center of a lake said to house the unsettled spirits of her bloodline. Having lost this land to a rapacious timber baron at the conclusion of Erdrich's Tracks, Fleur has abandoned her daughter to the care of the state-run Indian schools meant to westernize and "civilize" indigenous youths, secretly taken the name of Four Souls after her mother, and trudged down the railroad line from her North Dakota reservation to bustling early 20th century Minneapolis in order to track down and claim vengeance upon the white man who has pillaged and destroyed her land, the fiend John James Mauser.
When she arrives and surreptiously takes a job as a laundress in Mauser's mansion she discovers that the unrepentant monster that she has come to do battle with is none too intimidating in person. Wracked by an unnamed ailment, which we now to be PTSD, acquired while serving in France during the Great War, the Mauser she finds strapped into his sweat-soaked bed is a shade, a convalescent gripped by fierce muscle spasms and ceaseless insomnia. There's no satisfaction in murdering a helpless invalid, so Fleur takes it upon herself to restore Mauser to health and vitality, winning his heart in the process and weaving a far more convoluted revenge than the simple assassination she had originally planned. Plunging ahead with the tenacity and strength that had made the Pillagers both feared and respected, Fleur finds that, even when in service to a righteous cause, anger has its consequences and the actions taken in its name will change not only those involved but will reverberate across generations.
This tale is not simply Fleur's, however. In between narrating bits of Fleur's story, the lovable rascal Nanapush finds time to continue his own misbegotten adventures. Whether it be seeking his own brand of vengeance on a neighbor who has been a lifelong adversary, tormenting his long-suffering partner Margaret Kashpaw (who is quite adept at giving as much grief as she receives), or seeking to preserve the borders of the Ojibwe reservation from death by a thousand bureaucratic papercuts. Sagacious and buffoonish, often simultaneously, Nanapush proves once again why he is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters in a cringingly hilarious scene wherein he finds himself drunk in front of the entire tribe, wearing his wife's newly-made medicine dress, using every shred of his wit and loquaciousness to save both the lands of his people and his own honor.
This is the third Erdrich book I've devoured in the past year and with every page I turned the esteem I hold for her increased. With a loose and digressive narrative style that fosters perfectly the notion that the reader is sitting at the storyteller's feet as she weaves the tale, it is all too easy to fall deep into her words and lose all awareness of the world passing around you. While a sequel-of-sorts to Tracks, each book reads just as well as a stand-alone novel and one need not be familiar with any of the preceding events in order to become immersed in Erdrich's captivating storytelling, though once you finish you may find yourself running to your library to pick up her other books....more
A wonderful ending to one of the most refreshing science fiction stories I've read in a long, long, time. I started this late last night, fell asleepA wonderful ending to one of the most refreshing science fiction stories I've read in a long, long, time. I started this late last night, fell asleep reading, woke up and promptly needed to finish it before I even had coffee. Ann Leckie writes the stories I crave- riveting, tense, political intrigues in an incredibly rich and diverse universe that touch upon the nature of thought and desire and which play absolute havoc with our culture's common conception of gender and sexuality. It made my gay little robot heart leap with joy. ...more