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.

June 29, 2015Louise 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.

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By |2015-06-22T16:44:01-04:00June 22nd, 2015|Categories: Louise Erdrich, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |7 Comments


  1. lotusgreen June 28, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    Interesting to find no additional comments here. Hmmmm….

    See, I just don’t think it’s fair to stick a mishmash in our faces and call it a story without a hint, unless you use the secret decoder ring, that that’s not what its intention ever was. I mean, I looked at the biographical notes. I tried to find out “is that all there is?” but nary a clue was to be found. That’s the kind of information that you should not have to go to a whole other device to learn.

    Anyway…. I guess my reaction was not dissimilar to Adrienne’s, though I’m a long-term fan, reprinted a story of hers in some anthology or something, if I’m remembering correctly. I’ve loved the gritty, reality-based magic she’s woven, perhaps long ago. But here I watched myself have a similar reaction as I did in the Prospectors story: the head is rolling around… by itself???

    As far as this had been fetched, I cared about the two. I even believed them — up until that moment. But from then on, even if I suspended disbelief for the sake of the future, I too, like Adrienne, felt left hanging, if politically correctly so.

  2. Greg June 29, 2015 at 9:42 am

    Thank you Lily and Adrienne for your thoughts on this ‘story’. I agree that it’s weak overall, but it does have some good parts.

    Also, the subject of the Native boarding school is timely for me as a Canadian as we are now fully learning of the atrocities that took place in our Reservation Schools. So, Flower’s journey personalized for me what must have been going through the minds of the aboriginal children.

    How disturbing what we did to them. Time for us Canadians to make amends.

  3. Roger June 30, 2015 at 10:52 pm

    Like Lilly, I thought of the Karen Russell Prospectors story when here, the supernatural aspect begins. Both stories started out so strong, with gracious sentences, deftly sketched characters, and a plot that draws one in. Then the supernatural arrives and the drama, for me, is sapped away. In the page turner interview, Erdrich essentially contends that what happens isn’t supernatural at all. And in fairness, the “powers” of the young Indian girl are more organic to this story than were the ghosts in Prospectors.

    The story suffers another big pivot when the girl is whisked away to the boarding school. At that point, we are in a story about the oppression of Indians rather than one about particular characters and redemption, where Wolfred rescues the girl and she rescues him back. From the interview, it’s plain that Erdrich is deadly serious about this subject. She wrote the story she wanted to write, for personal and strongly felt reasons that I can respect, even though the result didn’t turn out entirely to be the story I would have wanted to read.

  4. Ken July 3, 2015 at 7:13 pm

    I have been so disgusted by recent New Yorker stories, that this was a relief, even if a problem since a cobbled-together excerpt from a novel. I like her style, her humanism and she really kept me interested. Some sentences seemed a bit anachronistic such as “There was no relief from their implacable mathematics” (which, via indirect free style, is supposed to reflect the thoughts of a 17-year-old in 1839!) or, a few sentences later, “If this was death, it was visually exhausting” which sounds like a film critic discussing Michael Bay. I was basically o.k. with the magical elements. The ending was unsatisfying, but that’s because, as is dishearteningly the case so often of late, this is an excerpt not a full-fledged short story. I think the book itself will be very worth reading.

  5. Michael F. July 3, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    I see this more as a novel preview than as a stand alone story, and from that perspective it worked. I am very fond of her novel “tracks”, and curious to know the connection (I assume there is one) between Flower and Fleur. The setting of the story is too early for it to be the same person, but I cannot believe the names are a coincidence. Perhaps Flower is Fleur’s mother?

  6. Trevor Berrett July 3, 2015 at 11:05 pm

    I see this more as a novel preview than as a stand alone story, and from that perspective it worked.

    Yes, that’s what it is, and many of us take issue with these, seeing them primarily as marketing and not in keeping with our expectations for weekly fiction. Of course, sometimes they are a delight, and we like them in spite of ourselves.

  7. Dan July 5, 2015 at 10:31 pm

    Like a broken record (here again I show my age), this story worked for me until the supernatural elements showed up. And–my turn to be the broken record–the ending felt tacked on in haste. The “boy rescues girl, and in turns find himself in need of rescuing by the girl” trope is cliched, but I thought Erdrich (whose Beet Queen I liked many years ago) handled them with some fresh insights and language. But boy am I sick of ads for novels in the guise of “short stories”.

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