Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Louise Erdrich's "The Flower" was originally published in the June 29, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.
Louise Erdrich is a Pantheon author on this site (see here), so fascinating and important do I find her work since I first started reading it in 2011. That said, her last two novels, which happen to be the only two I’ve reviewed on this site, have been a bit of a disappointment. Others feel differently, of course: her latest, The Round House, won the National Book Award.
With “The Flower” Erdrich returns to the Ojibwe country, a world I have grown to love. In this case, we go into the history, to 1839.
I look forward to the discussion below!
To get us started, here are some initial thoughts from Adrienne:
Again, I am new to a New Yorker author. I have heard Erdrich’s name before and even picked up one of her books (The Master Butchers Singing Club). I had found the title fascinating but was not pulled in enough at the beginning to continue reading.
I am sitting with those same feelings here after reading “The Flower.” And I must begin with the title! I understand why “The Flower” was on the list for this story, but it seems more of a working title. And the piece itself? There were good ideas, pretty little nuggets, woven together, but then sealed with a rather flat and predictable ending — an ending meant to sew in the loose threads and keep some of the vicious things within quite neat and tidy.
But I wanted more.
At eleven years old, “Flower” is abandoned by her mother: sold to the trading post owner, into sexual slavery, for alcohol. The clerk, Wolfred, merely seventeen, recognizes the child’s beauty and tries to hide the attractiveness from Mackinnon. Eventually Wolfred comes to recognize, instead, the signs of her subjugation to the ruthless man’s demands.
For the first time in his life, Wolfred began to see the things of which he was capable.
Wolfred sorted through his options . . .
And this is when the story has a promise of becoming fun . . . the head of a dead man rolling around, drums appearing out of nowhere, a grotesque poisoning, violent killing and re-killing, trips outside of the body and into the night air, dividing the self in parts and hiding some in trees . . .
And then it just ends. There’s some more plot to bring us to an end point — missionaries and boarding school, names and proposals — but it is heavy and wooden after all of the earlier animation.
I read in “The Page-turner” that this was written — collected — from bits and pieces of Erdrich’s upcoming novel. It was disappointing to realize that this was not a story unto its own, but I was a bit relieved, too. Maybe I will find something by Erdrich that I will enjoy from beginning to end.