Friday, June 19, 2009

Book Review: The Red Convertible: Selected and New Stories 1978-2008, by Louise Erdrich

The Red Convertible: Selected and New Stories 1978-2008, by Louise Erdrich

Betty and Boo love the cover of this book, and commented on it each time they saw me reading it. Which was often, because at 494 pages and 36 stories, this was not a fast read.

It was, however, a wonderful read. The Red Convertible is a collection of stories spanning 30 years of Erdrich's work as an author. In addition to being new to Erdrich's work, I also haven't read much about Native American Indian culture so I approached this with interest and a sense of broadening my literal - and figurative - horizons. (Beth Kephart's blog post about this book helped, too.)

Maybe it's because I recently read (and reviewed) Brad Gooch's biography of Flannery O'Connor, but in The Red Convertible there seemed to also be that riveting element of surprise and dark turns, of characters and plotlines you're thinking about long after you set the book down. I was delighted with this. I love this in a book.

Several of the characters in one story also appear in another. As an example, seemingly-unrelated characters in "The World's Greatest Fisherman" and "Saint Marie," two subsequent stories, come together in the next tale, "The Plunge of the Brave." Slightly confusing? Yes. But an effective literary element and treat for the reader at the same time. This was very well-done. In the hands of a less-skilled writer, this technique could seem as if the author was reaching or out of ideas. Not so with Erdrich, who by employing this, makes the reader truly care about the characters.

In reading other book blogs, it seems (and I could be wrong) that I'm in the minority with my love of short stories and short story collections. (Maybe that's true in general; the library I worked at as a teenager rarely bought short story collections because they weren't popular among the library patrons of our suburban town.) I happen to adore short stories. That being said, if you're not a fan of the short-story form, this might not be the collection to start with. (Fans of Louise Erdrich's would, I'd imagine, enjoy this.)

I would also add that The Red Convertible is probably not a collection to read as one would a novel. There are some pretty dark (and graphic) stories, and it's a bit of a heavy read. Again, with just a few exceptions, this is a very, very good collection of stories. There were some stories, however, that I couldn't stomach or get through. (For example, some are set in a butcher shop. I'm not the type of vegetarian who is offended when someone eats a steak in front of them, but some of the descriptions of the meat industry were a little too heavy for me.)

Oh, man, I'm so not doing this book justice, I'm afraid.

Let me summarize with this: if you enjoy short stories and if you don't mind them a little on the dark (and occasionally a little graphic) side, you'll probably like The Red Convertible. I'm giving this 4.5 stars out of 5, because of the two or three stories I couldn't get through. The writing is superb, the characters memorable, and the plots original.

Finally, this is one of many books I've read that I have another blogger to thank. You can read Beth Kephart's review of The Red Convertible here at Beth Kephart Books.
And here's what others had to say:
New York Times Book Review, 1/4/2009
Guest post by Helen W. Mallon on Emerging Writers Network, as well as Mallon's review of The Red Convertible from The Philadelphia Inquirer
Bookmarks Magazine
If you've reviewed this and I missed your post, include a link in the comments and I'll be happy to add it.


JoAnn said...

I ordered this through interlibrary loan after reading one of your earlier posts. The book arrived with the spine cracked. It opened automatically to 'The Dress' - so I read it, along with one other story. Yesterday a 40% off coupon from Border's came in an email, so I went and bought a copy for myself! I've never read Erdrich and these stories are wonderful.
Thanks for the recommendation!

Betty and Boo's Mommy said...

JoAnn, I'm glad you're enjoying this. I'll be interested to hear what you think when you're finished. Enjoy! (P.S. Gotta love those 40% off coupons!)