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Perma Red

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  515 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
On the reservation, danger looms everywhere, rising out of fear and anger, deprivation and poverty. Fiery-haired Louise White Elk dreams of both belonging and escape, and of discovering love and freedom on her own terms. But she is a beautiful temptation for three men-each more dangerous than the next-who will do anything to possess her...
Paperback, 320 pages
Published June 3rd 2003 by Blue Hen Trade (first published June 10th 2002)
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Taylor The title, "Perma Red", is explained in the book as referring to the "red light district" or prostitution. In this book, the main character Louise has…moreThe title, "Perma Red", is explained in the book as referring to the "red light district" or prostitution. In this book, the main character Louise has affairs and many different loves and at some point is referred to as "Perma Red" by I think her husband.(less)

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Dec 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing
I bought this book at a writing conference near Portland where Debra Magpie Earling was one of the keynote speakers. Her writing is unbelievably strong, feminine, vivid, heartbreaking. So on a break, I drove over to Powells and promptly bought it. I even worked up the courage to have her sign it. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the stories of native or marginalized peoples--told by the people themselves.
Deena Metzger
Jul 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Deena by: Melissa Kwasny
Sometimes i wish one could offer more than five stars. This is one of these moments. Debra Magpie Earling is a major writer. She has managed to infuse English with the values and perceptions inherent in Native American culture, even though English is the language of the Conquest and the Conquest was made possible through the language. Even though Earling is fiercely honest about the ways Native American people are still suffering the violence and brutality of American culture and politics, the b ...more
Mar 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: women
This is not a beautiful, uplifting story. This book is sorrow. It's one of the best things I've ever read.

Magpie Earling's writing is somehow lush and spare at the same time. She evokes moments and scenes so well, it felt like coming out of a dream when I put the book down.

(view spoiler)
May 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing
So, I have finished the book, for the second time. I love how you can remember the basics of a story but forget the details that make it so powerful. So, it was great to read it again. I liked the ending. Despite all of the tragedy, Louise and Baptiste seem happy in the end. Unfortunately, I know that this novel is based off of a true story and Louise in real life does not have a happy ending.
Chris Allan
Jan 23, 2016 rated it liked it
Often a book is great for us because it shows us people and life that are not us, that we haven't experienced, that let us live in someone else's skin for a while. This was one of those. I couldn't identify with the characters, in fact couldn't really understand why they did what they did, but that was the reason to read this -- to remind you that not not everyone's like you
Jan 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
From Library Journal:

"In this beautiful first novel, set on the Flathead Reservation of Montana in the 1940s, Earling traces the youth and young adulthood of Louise White Elk and the men who try to win her heart and soul."

I found this book to be incredibly intense and sad, but it was beautifully written and haunting. Janie
Apr 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is Earling's first novel, and it's one of the very best pieces of fiction written in/about Montana (my home). Earling's writing is eloquent, clean, lovely. The story is wrenching. As a first, it sets the bar unbearably high.
Hanna Ziegler
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: serious-reads
You know those books that you read that stick with you for days? Weeks? Months? Things about them just keep coming back to you: lines that you loved, moments of profundity that knocked you off your proverbial feet, similarities in your own life, and the general awareness that the book is always on your mind. This is one of those books for me. Clearly a labor of love, it was beautifully crafted from cover to cover, engaging all the senses and actively challenging the reader. It's an absolutely ha ...more
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-riot
This is a story about several Natives on a reservation, all entwined by bonds of love or blood. There's Louise, who has a gravity to her, drawing men's attention, though she quite often suffers for it, as these men see her as a possession and not a person. There's Baptiste, who has powerful medicine, they say, and struggles with his inner demons. There's Charlie, who is part and apart as a police officer, treated as less than by the whites, but still not quite the same as the other natives.

Brenda Schilling
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was hard. I found about half way through that I didn’t want to finish it because I felt like I knew how it was going to end and I didn’t want to witness it. I finished it, but little by little, and I’m glad I did. This is one of those stories that will stick with you.

• Baptiste, has sight (4)—Louise’s grandmother: “He is the last of our old ones, and he is dangerous.”—Why Baptiste and his mother Dirty Swallow mean Louise and her family ill (4)
• Louise avoiding Baptiste: “All her focus, all of her attentions had been and were still directed toward him. Ignoring him had only made him more present in her life.” (11) sexual energy between them (12-13)
• “But she had no way of knowing if she ran toward or away from him. Baptiste was everywhere.” (1
Joyce Reynolds-Ward
Oct 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
An intense and compelling story. Not a cheerful tale with a happy ending, but well worth the read.
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, place
A story about poverty and loss, violence and the cold of Montana winter.
Brutal and unsparing.
May 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully and brutally written. One of my new favorites. I can't stop thinking about it.
Dec 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Beautiful, poetic writing, brutal storyline, some gorgeous set peices, but it never congeals into a compelling whole.
North Idaho College Molstead Library Reads
Rarely has a book made me feel so conflicted and captivated by the characters. Easily one of my favorite novels.

Reviewed by: Lisa Kellerman, Reference & Instruction Librarian
Anna Marie
Very strange story about love, desire, power, and hate.
Louise White Elk and Baptiste Yellow Knife, beautiful, strong and courageous lovers hell-bent on self-destruction. Both wanting only to survive brutality and prejudice.
Feb 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A girl grows up on the reservation known as a beauty and with several men who want her. There's the full blood 'old' Indian. A cowboy. A rich white man. She grows up afraid of the full blood man, but she becomes fascinated. He knows the old ways and that attracts her. He can be evil when drinking and that scares her. It wasn't til the book was over that I realized the characters represented those groups of people that affected the natives. How the poor white man was used by the arrogant rich man ...more
Oct 01, 2010 rated it really liked it
Despite all her instincts and longings for freedom, red-headed enchantress Louise White Elk cannot tear her dusty Montana destiny from Baptiste Yellow Knife on the desperately poor Flathead Indian reservation in the 1940s.

Perma Red was a haunting, dark, romantic western. The language was beautiful and unrelenting as I felt all the pain that Louise White Elk went through as a beautiful child, then woman. Her situation was so desperate and full of longing. Debra Magpie Earling did a splendid job p
Stephanie Gustafson
Nov 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
I had high hopes for this book but struggled with it. Part of it is the content, and part of it is the writing style. The themes are familiar because I've read Erdrich, Hogan, Silko, Alexie, Momaday, and Welch (to name a few), so it's a familiar story of what happens to a community because of all the ugly consequences of colonization. There is just something about the storytelling that I struggled with, and I almost gave up on it a couple of times- too many simple sentences, which gives it a cho ...more
Kae Cheatham
A dark, dense look at the distressing life of a girl on the 1940s Flathead reservation in Montana. Moments of brilliance in descriptive passages. Use of alternate voices (first person for one character and third person narrative for all others) is handled well. The story is overpowering with a negative and brutal portrayal of every major character. I finished the book because I wanted to fully understand the development, and not because of any deep caring for the people. The ending was unsatisfa ...more
Feb 04, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
As I was reading this book by husband asked me, "Is it a good book? Do you like it?" and my response was, "No." Then why are you reading it? I guess I just wanted to know what happened but it wasn't worth it. I should've just put it down. Louise is not a believable character--how can so much tragedy happen to one person so young in such a short amount of time?! How can the men in this book be so shallow and so mean? I guess it is written about a world that I just don't understand--a Native Ameri ...more
Mar 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
It's a good book, with an interesting perspective on reservation life. One major theme are the challenges of having to straddle two cultures, and the struggles of assimilation to mainstream American culture. Overall, a good book, and I'd be interested in reading more from the author.

I saw the author read a short story at a local library event, and talked to her afterward. Her reading was fantastic, and she was great to speak with. She also answered questions about Perma Red, the original ending,
Jan 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Remarkable book. I've read over 40 Native American authors and this is among the best. It deals with so-called "typical" issues found on Reservations. The characters are very frustrating in their insistence on making horrible decisions for themselves, but are very realistically and believably depicted by the author. I had never heard of this book or author until I read a webpage entitled "20 Native American Writers You Need to Read"--I recommend the site.
Feb 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book puts you on the Flathead reservation in the 40s which is a harsh place to be. Heartbreaking and hopeful all at once. The horror of the mission school and a system that sets people up to fail on their own land over which they have no control. My only complaint is that some of the protagonists are too broken to empathize with.
Sep 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
I just couldn't get through this one. It is rare that I give up on a book, but this one was a bit too abstract and artsy for me. I felt very distant and removed from the main characters and had a hard time following exactly what was happening. Darn. I know a lot of other people that really loved it, but I guess its not for everyone.
Aug 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: kristin, amanda
Part of this book's appeal for me was certainly its setting in my former backyard, and part what I have of my own misgivings about the time I spent living on the Flathead reservation (what that required historically and contextually)-- but also, the story is told in a way that throws trauma on top of trauma without time for the characters to recover. The weight of it stuck with me.
May 30, 2011 rated it liked it
a really good read. although emotionally difficult at times. raw, poetic, connected to the land, just a touch of mysticism/supernatural(i love this). an interesting style...POV from inside someone's thoughts... simple and driven by emotion, by instinct in the moment.
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Debra Cecille Magpie Earling is a Native American novelist (Bitterroot Salish tribe), and short story writer. She is the author of Perma Red and The Lost Journals of Sacajewea, which was on display at the Missoula Museum of Art in late 2011. Her work has also appeared in Ploughshares and the Northeast Indian Quarterly.

She is a graduate of the University of Washington, and holds both an MA in Engli
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