The characters in Tracks develop in complicated and often surprising ways. Louise Erdrich offers hints about some of the changes in identity that a few characters undergo, and the novel’s resolution may not be satisfying to all readers.
Throughout the novel, the relationship between Fleur Pillager and Pauline Puyat runs a gamut of emotions, as Pauline becomes obsessed with Fleur’s proven ability to survive drowning, which seems linked to magical gifts. The reader senses that one of them will gain dominance over the other, but the author maintains suspense about which one will come out ahead. Fleur is again shown to be a survivor after her rapists are punished and Nanapush rescues her from starvation. Once Fleur becomes pregnant, the reader is left wondering about Lulu’s paternity, a question that remains unanswered.
Pauline’s erratic behavior becomes the catalyst for the conflict between the Morrisseys, Pillagers, Kashpaws, and Nanapush. Her desire for Eli, Fleur’s partner, is expressed through a vicious plan to break them up. Pauline’s pregnancy seems both to unhinge her and push her toward religion. Her failure to help Fleur deliver her next baby, who dies, widens the rift between them as Fleur becomes increasingly despondent. Pauline becomes even more unstable: in trying to defeat Satan, in the form of the lake monster, she instead kills Napoleon. This tragedy prompts Pauline to take up a new identity and calling as Sister Leopolda.
Perhaps the greatest transformation is the one that Nanapush undergoes. As the embodiment of the Native American trickster figure, Nanapush more often seems a challenger to authority than an enforcer. It may seem out of character that he becomes the tribal chairman. However, his decision to rescue Lulu, as he once saved her mother, and to lead his community is consistent with his function as a key representative of Native cultural values.
After a powerful act of vengeance mixed with heroism, Fleur disappears. Not knowing her fate is not the only loose end that Erdrich leaves, so the reader must wonder what several the characters will do next and how Lulu will grow up. Erdrich regularly explores different phases of the families featured here, so the curious reader may wish to follow them in three other, related novels.