These Stories are Short, but so is Life

This past summer, on my way home from work at about 3 PM, if I was feeling adventurous, I would venture out from the safety of my air-conditioned car into the drenching humidity of Atlanta and explore the used book sale near my house. Right before a vacation to Florida, I picked up two collections of short stories. One was The Stories of Eva Luna by Isabel Allende, and the other (whose title now escapes my memory) was a compilation of the works of multiple Southern authors. I read them quickly, and even though they were short, I still reflect on many of them.

This experience shaped the way I’ve been reading selections from The Red Convertible by Louise Erdrich. I’ve been trying to piece the stories together, to determine common themes, to get them to harmonize so that they sound clearer in my head. They are all by the same author, like Eva Luna, and “Scales,” “The Red Convertible,” and “The History of the Puyats” seem to take place in the general North/South Dakota area, and involve Native Americans.

The other similarity I’ve been able to find is what I can only describe as Erdrich’s apparent fascination with tragedy. Some of the imagery has made me squirm; but I was finally able to get past it with the sixth story I read, “The History of the Puyats.” Instead of being disgusted or made uncomfortable, I was moved by a few of Erdrich’s descriptions, such as:

“Though she could still run, there was no one to catch her.” (Erdrich, 334)

“Pauline could not love or be loved. She had been robbed of her capacity either to give or receive anything so profoundly good.” (Erdrich, 335)

“[her marraiges]…subsided into indifference so profound that, one day, the indifference extended to herself.” (Eridrich, 335)

Erdrich references buffalo mourning over their dead with painstaking cries, destruction of the carcasses, and even trampling over their young. “The buffalo went crazy with grief to see the end of things. Like us, they saw the end of things and like many of us, many today, they did not care to live.” (Erdrich, 336) The character Pauline kills herself after killing her mother.
Image by Bryce Olsen, from Unsplash: https://unsplash.com/photos/4Cu9-BA8QoA

The last two are followed by intense descriptions of repulsive events that made my squeamish self weak – but I was still struck by the scars of loneliness this Pauline character had because of her upbringing, and the tragedy of her mother’s existence because of her husband’s murder and the fact that she had abused her daughter, as described in the first quote.

It takes a little more work to relate to a short story than a novel – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. It requires more thinking – but that doesn’t mean it has to be a chore. Finding connections between the stories is just my way of making sense of it all; there are certainly others. Even on their own, Erdrich’s stories are powerful, emotional, and explore a side of humanity I hope I never have to endure.

Source: Erdrich, Louise. The Red Convertible. 2009.

1 thought on “These Stories are Short, but so is Life

  1. Brian Croxall says:

    You’re right, Caroline, that looking for connections among the stories is one of the best strategies for reading a collection like this. Erdrich has made the choice to put these particular stories in the same volume, so while they might not all have been written for the express purpose of being included in The Red Convertible, we find them together nevertheless. Why, then, does Erdrich choose the stories that she has? (Or why have I chosen the ones we are reading?)

    As for the question of the difficult and tragic subject matter, we can return again to the question that I raised before Thanksgiving: is there something particular about “art” that requires an exploration of the unsavory and the unhappy? What might be driving Erdrich to explore these topics?

    Reply

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