Louise Erdrich’s ~ Tracks (Spoilers) ~ Nov. 2013

tracksTRACKS, for me, is a story about storytelling, about identity and the struggle to survive. In it, Louise Erdrich seems to stay very true to the art and format of storytelling among Native Americans, that is to say, the oral-based tradition of passing lore.

This is most evident in the story told by Nanapush to his granddaughter, Lulu, in which he attempts to reconcile her with her estranged mother, Fleur, and – in a larger sense – with her Indian heritage. In the story, Nanapush tells of events he’s witnessed as well as reporting others he hasn’t. There is the air of a ‘trickster’ about him, with many stories including humorous or mischievous anecdotes, such as his attempts to break Pauline’s vow of not relieving herself or his subversion of the church in mocking the act of Confession.

We are reminded throughout Nanapush’s story that he is addressing a specific person, Lulu; and consequently, the reader is led to assume that the tale he is telling serves a specific and unique purpose in that it is not so much told for entertainment value or to impart some tribal knowledge or wisdom, but is told in order to bring Lulu back into the fold as it were, to reconcile her with her lost Indian heritage as she was sent away to school after her mother lost their land to the government. As a result, certain events in the story may well have been misappropriated or entirely invented by Nanapush to serve this purpose.

Nanapush, in a way, created a new tribe, adopting Fleur and Margaret and Lulu as his family. In a similar way, he’s creating a new history by expanding and ‘dressing up’ the stories he performs for Lulu.

Pauline’s story provides a stark contrast to Nanapush’s. Where his stories bring to mind traditional, Native American storytelling, with their use of symbols, myth, and nature, Pauline’s story reads more like a written confession, like she is attempting to justify and validate her actions, like she is seeking forgiveness, for her own sins as well as those of others. She is obsessed with Fleur, and seems to love and hate her in equal measure. She has a vindictive, vengeful streak, as evident in her cursing of Sophie and Eli as well as her murder of Napoleon, whose child she bore and then discarded. That she’s mad is indisputable, and her attempts to cleanse and ‘baptise’ this insulated tribe are met with derision and mockery, particularly by Fleur and Nanapush, which only serves to enrage her further. She becomes a source of pity and ridicule, even in her own narrative, as she descends into a fanatical madness.

TRACKS, to me, is also a novel about identity. Nanapush tries to adapt and preserve the Indian identity while Pauline struggles to form a new one, separate and ‘other’ to the one she was born into. Both narratives also share a sense of hopelessness, a sense of man succumbing to forces beyond his control. In Nanapush’s tale, it is the surrender of Native American land and culture to the encroaching white man while Pauline’s narrative is one of surrendering to madness and religious fanaticism.

Have you read Tracks? What did you think of it?