"Americanness needs no apology; it’s the strength of our letters. And few of our contemporary writers exemplify its adaptive vitality better than Louise Erdrich, herself descended from the first Americans (her mother was part Chippewa, part French, and her grandmother was a tribal chairwoman) and from German immigrants. The author of some two dozen books for adults and children, Erdrich is also a wondrous short story writer. In “The Red Convertible,” she gathers 36 stories, 26 previously published, together creating a keepsake of the American experience. Like the painted drum in her story of that name, this collection can be considered “a living thing,” an emblem of the universe — “exquisitely sensitive for so powerful an instrument.”
If a short story is to succeed, it must suggest what a work of greater heft would make explicit. In Erdrich’s story “Scales,” which appeared in The North American Review and “The Best American Short Stories 1983” and was later folded into the novel “Love Medicine,” she describes the fierce bond between Dot Adare, a sturdy, irascible woman who weighs trucks for the North Dakota Highway Department, and her rascally husband, Gerry Nanapush. In the weigh shack, the pregnant Dot knits clothes for her baby, “pulling each stitch so tightly that the little garments she finished stood up by themselves like miniature suits of mail.” Just in time for the birth, Gerry springs himself from jail, riding to the hospital on a “huge and ancient, rust-pocked” motorcycle. A few weeks later, when she’s back in the weigh shack and Gerry’s back in jail, Dot impulsively weighs the child on the truck scale. “He was so dense with life, such a powerful distillation of Dot and Gerry, it seemed he might weigh about as much as any load,” Erdrich writes. “But that was only a thought, of course. For as it turned out, he was too light and did not register at all.” In the scales, perhaps he didn’t; but on the page his weight is solid, both with past accumulation and latent future.
In the preface to this collection, Erdrich explains that every time she finishes writing a short story, she considers it done, complete. “There is no more,” she thinks. And yet, she adds, “the stories are rarely finished with me. They gather force and weight and complexity. Set whirling, they exert some centrifugal influence.” Together, they move."
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(The New York Times 1/2)