Erdrich (The Plague of Doves, 2008, etc.) has created such a complex fictional universe, with mythic characters reappearing in different guises in her numerous novels, that these 36 stories, even those previously unpublished, resonate like favorite melodies.
All the old favorites are here. Sorting out who’s who and keeping track of Erdrich’s generational time frame is never easy, but the chronological order of the stories helps. “Naked Woman Playing Chopin” stands on its own as a moving, erotic depiction of music as love. The more contemporary “Hasta Namaste, Baby” exposes the secret, unspoken compromises of marriage as a man who has hidden his infertility from his wife lives with her betrayal when she becomes pregnant. “Anna” concerns a woman who moves in with two brothers, a Jules and Jim scenario with a twist. Told in mini-chapters, “Father’s Milk” has the wide scope of a surreal novella. A white soldier attacking an Ojibwe village saves an Indian baby he then miraculously nurses with his own milk and raises lovingly as his daughter. When he marries and has a new baby, she finds her freedom and ends up roaming with the antelope. Not exactly realism, yet strangely realistic mythmaking.
Erdrich requires a degree of commitment not every reader will make, but fans will find that these stories distill her body of work to its essence.