"I'VE HAD SOME STORIES FOR TWENTY YEARS," Louis Erdrich told the Paris Review in 2010. "I keep adding to them word by word. ... All of the books will be connected somehow--by history and blood and by something I have no control over, which is the writing itself. The writing is going to connect where it wants to, and I will have to try and follow along." In this vein, Erdrich's 14th novel The Round House (reviewed on page 27) reprises some of the characters and locales of the Pulitzer Prize finalist Plague of Doves (**** SELECTION July/Aug 2008), which, in turn, peripherally touches on the larger stories of earlier novels.
By adding to her stories word by word and writing what she describes as "one long novel" (Time 4/1/01), Erdrich has created a fictional community and province--a North Dakota Ojibwe reservation and its surrounding towns--as indelible as Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County and Joyce's Dublin. Drawing upon her own Native American heritage, Erdrich first created this world in Love Medicine (1984), a novel of short, interconnected narratives told by several Native American families living on the reservation.
Over the next three decades, Erdrich penned a dozen more novels (as well as short stories, children's books, nonfiction, and poetry) that together form a loose portrait of Native Americans within a broader culture that has both denigrated and romanticized them. Characters grow and develop over time, meandering in and out of successive books. ("If they show up, they have to show up," Erdrich told Time.) Themes of crime, cruelty, belonging, and exclusion characterize her tangled family trees; techniques of magical realism, nonlinear storytelling, and multiple narratives weave complex tapestries of local history and consciousness.
Karen Louise Erdrich (1954-) was raised in Wahpeton, North Dakota, by a father of German descent and a mother of French-Ojibwe origin who was born on the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe Reservation. Erdrich's grandfather had been the tribal chair of the reservation, and her parents worked at the Bureau of Indian Falls Boarding School. The eldest of seven children, Erdrich was steeped in the rich oral tradition of Ojibwe storytelling from an early age. "The people in our families made everything into a story," she told Writer's Digest in 1991. "People just sit and the stories start coming, one after another. You just sort of grab the tail of the last person's story: it reminds you of something and you keep going on."
Erdrich left her small town to attend Dartmouth University, where she met her future husband, Michael Dorris, chair of the Native American Studies Department. She collaborated with him on novels that bear her name through the 1980s and 1990s. Together they raised three adopted and three biological children before they separated; Dorris later committed suicide. But the stories kept coming. Now the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore in Minneapolis, Erdrich continues to add layers upon layers to her fiction. "The story comes around," she writes in The Bingo Palace (1994), "pushing at our brains, and soon we are trying to ravel back to the beginning, trying to put...