New Yorker fiction -- March 20, 2006 issue
Wouldn't surprise me if this became one of those rich, compact, anthologized classics we're all forced to study, the kind that make you despair of ever reaching a certain level of skill. It's all rollicking plot from beginning to end, making it hard to discuss the events without too many spoilers. Just read it. Not much about it is new -- the plot itself borrows heavily from Fargo (surely she saw it?) -- and the characters are minimally rendered, but Erdrich's careful use of language creates a deceptively plain lyric sound with the sparest economy. All the fat has been trimmed from these sentences, but none of the meat, and you can feel the bones jutting and solid beneath. Plot turns do not flatter themselves with ornamentation or literary trickery. They just roll out in the same subdued voice as everything else, adding a note of sincerity and truth to an already convincing neutrality. Pay attention to the character of Carmen. It's pretty amazing the transformation she undergoes in just 14 columns of text. A lot to be learned here.