Days after a coworker of mine gifted me a novel about Native Americans (Song of the Wolf by Scott C. Stone), I abandoned it and picked up another that, it turns out, was more to my liking. Little did I know that it was the third in a tetralogy, yet would end up being the only one to successfully grab my attention. I requested the first in the series (Love Medicine) from the library afterwards, except I couldn’t hardly believe it was written by the same person, because what kept me enthralled with Tracks was her, well, magical magical realism.
Forget that I had a hard time keeping the narrative and characters straight at times. When multiple chapters were published in prior years as short stories, that they would not quite mesh comes as no surprise. Reading Erdrich was, to me, akin to reading poetry, in that I was more engaged by the lyricism of the words than their meaning. Love Medicine was hopelessly plain by comparison; me giving up on it tells you all you need to know about my taste in literature, as well as both film and television. It’s all in the way it’s either written or said.
Do you think King became my favorite author on the strength of his characters and plot? No, he just happens to write in a manner which I find palatable, due in part to my own style being similar in some respects. Strip that away and you’re left with what can only be described as silliness only one notch above theGoosebumps books I used to crave most of all as a child. Pixar, another favorite of mine, would meet a similar fate if they were to hand the screenwriting duties over to someone else less accomplished. Toy Story, if handled by the same writing staff as Monsters University, would never have impacted me the way it did; as I detailed some in my review of the latter, Monsters University hits on some of the same narrative beats as Toy Story, yet Toy Story did it better.
That’s what’s happening here with Erdrich’s series of books. I didn’t read far enough to claim the two are at all mirror images of one another in every other respect; however, whatever Erdrich is going for, Tracks does it better, which is why I’m thankful Goodreads chose this as my entry point. If I’d begun with Love Medicine, Tracks wouldn’t have even been considered. To further clarify the startling differences in writing style between the two, here are the opening lines of the two, in each case a microcosm of the whole. First, Tracks:
We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.
Second, Love Medicine:
The morning before Easter Sunday, June Kashpaw was walking down the clogged main street of oil boomtown Williston, North Dakota, killing time before the noon bus arrived that would take her home.
Can you now understand why Love Medicine was so at odds with my expectations? Tracks‘ opening line says more to me than Love Medicine‘s, doing it in only half the time and with a beauty none of what I read from Love Medicine could match.
This is all to say that, if Tracks has you hooked already, pick it up and read ahead, because there’s more where that came from. I can’t speak to matters of character or plot, since my attention was focused not so much on the words themselves and their meaning as it was on their sound, not unlike how a song’s lyrics take countless listens before they register as anything more than the exercising of another instrument, a series of notes adding to the whole. All I’m qualified to tell you about Tracks is that I couldn’t name many books better written than it. The only thing I can fault it for is its clarity; yes, I wasn’t as focused a reader as I probably should have been, but the point still stands thatTracks, for all its gorgeous imagery, let its plot and characters get a little muddled, from time to time, amidst the pretty words. If you’re like me, though, that won’t much matter.
Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.