Book Review: The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, Louise Erdrich
I am angry with Louise Erdrich. I am always angry with Louise Erdrich. I’m a crazy reader, you see. Between writing and cooking and weeding and my Peloton, I like to read a book each weekend. Maybe two books. But anything penned by this woman takes me weeks to read. Her work is so firmly dense, and the writing so perfect, that it’s all I can do to finish without highlighting the entire book. Should that be my sales pitch? Can you sell a book with every line pre-highlighted for me, to relieve me of the time I take for marking?
As always, I enjoy the Native focus of the work, the characters, and the deeper story. I grew up in Tacoma, Washington, on the hilly skirts of the Puyallup reservation, across the river, surrounded by block prints of cedar salmon and killer whales, so anything by Erdrich is a little of a coming home. It’s not just a native story though, and I loved the Christian and Popish themes, both central to the story, and hinting at history. And if you are open to it, a sense of magic and spirit breathes here like smoke, like campfire smoke, warming you and reminding you that you aren’t at home.
Should You Read The Book?
Should you read the book? It’s longish, and I don’t see how you would read it quickly: it’s quirky with characters that adhere to their own standards. It’s like reading Psalm 119: you wish you can speed read through it just to tic your list, but it’s so deep and connected that you can’t. By its design and by its depth, you read slow, a word at a time, out loud.
If Native American themes bore you, and if Catholicism revolts you, and if history is a sham perpetrated on you by people who want to force a story, this won’t be for you. If you enjoy any of those things for whatever reason, or if you are a writer, hungry for superb wordsmithing, or if you are a human being, interested in what that means, I wholeheartedly recommend the book.
Some reviewers feel the plotline is hard to follow. Impugning no one, I agree that may be true for the genre reader who swallows whole books with specific actions dictated by percent of page numbers completed leading to predictable ends. But, humbly, the book is deeper. It’s a story of unfolding and, well, unfolding takes time. It’s a blanket on a loom, wove together a strand at a time. So, I agree, which is why I read the book slowly with a narrow eye.
The plot meanders, too. To my mind, Erdrich expertly twines a tapestry of several families and plot lines. Names are sometimes interchangeable. Plot points come and go. I agree with other reviewers: this is not a book for the casual reader. I can’t say if Erdrich meant it to be.
Grasshopper, Grab the Stone
Again, should you read it? Ah, Grasshopper, listen closely:
I grew up hiking and stomping through woods most of the time. I can tell you a dozen trails to take leading to gorgeous lakes and beautiful scenes. The paths are well kept and an easy walk for you and your kids and the other hundred or so gawkers. I have spent many a wonderful Saturday there with my kids, marveling at the chiseled beauty of a riverbed cut through a mountain. We cook hotdogs and smother them with catchup and then traipse back to the car for a sleepy ride home.
I know of one trail, too, more of a faint depression through doug firs and ferns, leading to a breathtaking tiny pothole of a lake that most people will never see. They don’t even know it exists. It’s clear and blue and freezing and leaps with native trout snapping at flies.
Which would you rather go to? Therein lies your answer.
Five stars from me, and I will, from this point forward, humbly judge your literary sense on your view of Little No Horse.