Four Souls Essay - Critical Essays

Four Souls

Louise Erdrich has enthralled her readers for a number of years with a cluster of novels focusing on the inhabitants of an Ojibwe reservation. With consummate poetic skill, she has given voice to the marginalized lives of twentieth century Native Americans. In so doing, she has created some of the most memorable characters in modern literature. They range from a cross-dressing woman who poses as a Roman Catholic priest to an old Native American trickster who is both a wise man and a fool.

In Four Souls, the eighth installment in the series, Fleur Pillager seeks redress from John James Mauser, the tycoon who left a trail of ruined Native American lives in his lust for wealth. Readers familiar with Fleur from the preceding novels in the cycle will delight in the story of this ferocious, taciturn woman. Erdrich’s decision to allow Fleur’s father and the aristocratic Polly Elizabeth Gheen to describe events rather than Fleur herself only serves to enhance the enigmatic nature of her personality.

Erdrich enriches Fleur’s quest for revenge by contrasting it with Nanapush’s desire to punish Shesheeb, a neighbor who flirts with Nanapush’s wife, Margaret. While Nanapush’s hilarious failures ultimately bring him closer to his wife, Fleur almost succeeds too well. She marries the man she originally intended to kill and bears him a son. The climax of the novel—a high-stakes poker game in which Fleur tries to win back her land—is one of the best scenes in Erdrich’s oeuvre. While it would be easy to find fault with the shallowness of Mauser’s character, one is more than compensated by the rich inner lives of Erdrich’s Native Americans. Four Souls is a fitting addition to Erdrich’s continuing saga.

Review Sources

Booklist 100, no. 16 (April 15, 2004): 1405.

Entertainment Weekly, June 25, 2004, p. 169.

Kirkus Reviews 72, no. 8 (April 15, 2004): 347.

Library Journal 129, no. 9 (May 15, 2004): 114.

The New York Times, July 6, 2004, p. E7.

The New York Times Book Review 153 (July 4, 2004): 15.

Publishers Weekly 251, no. 19 (May 10, 2004): 33.