Erdrich handles characters differently from most writers. The subordination of major and minor characters common among other writers is missing from her novels, and Tales of Burning Love, with its huge cast of characters, is no exception. While many characters from previous novels appear here in cameo roles, few unimportant characters exist in the book. Jack Mauser is no more important than his wives; characters such as Eleanor's parents, particularly her mother, are significant. To some of Erdrich's critics, this absence of a hierarchy and emphasis on the group is a characteristic of her writing, a part of her ethics as a writer and person.
Many characters in Tales of Burning Love appear in other Erdrich novels. These include Leopolda, Lyman Lamartine, Lipsha Morrissey, who is not named here, June Morrissey, Dot Mauser, Mary Adare, Celestine Adare, and a host of others, some named and some not. Part of Erdrich's project is to stitch together all five books dealing with the reservation and Argus, North Dakota: Love Medicine (1984; see separate entry), The Beet Queen (1986; see separate entry); Tracks, and The Bingo Palace (1994; see separate entry).
For example, some of these reworked characters in Tales of Burning Love, such as Jack, June Morrissey, and Sister Leopolda, seem much different than their earlier incarnations in Love Medicine. Jack and June's mock wedding held in a bar is not in Love Medicine. Nor is there any sense that Andy in Love Medicine is Jack in disguise. The Andy of the earlier book is simply an oil industry mud engineer who picks up a woman in a bar. The relationship is more important to June than it is to Andy in Love Medicine. Jack, with all his quick fix shortcomings, is a miracle of sensitivity compared to the lightly sketched Andy of the earlier book. Leopolda, who seemed near death in 1957 when Marie Kashpaw visits her in Love Medicine, has managed to live to 108 in Tales of Burning Love. Still more miraculous in Tales of Burning Love is what seems to be the snatching of Gerry Nanapush and Lipsha Morrissey from an implied death in the snow in The Bingo Palace. It seems as if Erdrich wished to close the series of novels dealing with the reservation and Argus with The Bingo Palace, but changed her mind and continued it with Tales of Burning Love. Most readers will...
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