(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

As in the other books of the Chippewa tetralogy, Erdich’s themes are enduring and interlinked: the necessity for belonging to a family, whether natal or adoptive, and often not conventionally formed; the lure of home, in its difference from alien places and its necessary welcome; and the awe-inspiring power of love, whether erotic or familial. Because this is the earliest in time of all the novels, the contrast between a still mostly virginal reservation and even a small town (as Argus is then, early in this century) is a drastic one for the mostly Indian cast of characters. Besides the residents of Argus, only the priest and the nuns of the convent are white, although there is a sharp division between the “skins” such as Nanapush, Fleur, and Eli, all of them wise in the ways of the woods, and the “breeds,” such as the Morrisseys and Lazarres, who tend to take the white man’s road. Although Erdrich’s decision to forgo the omniscient narrator who might have directly reflected her own sympathies makes the reader dependent for information on the two contrasting first-person voices of Nanapush and Pauline, one easily infers that it is the former and not the latter with whom she empathizes, and, as a corollary, the woods-loving rather than the town group that she favors. Visiting Nanapush at his cabin, Fleur sums it up: “ ‘I shouldn’t have left this place.’ ”

Tracks has a structure that, for the sections Nanapush narrates, is necessarily circular. At some indeterminate time after 1924 (when she would have been only ten), he is trying to explain her mother to a Lulu who is nubile enough to have engaged herself to a Morrissey. He begins with his rescue of the girl Fleur during the terrible winter of 1912; her stubbornness emerges at once in her refusal of his nurturing any longer than is absolutely necessary and...

(The entire section is 755 words.)