Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse

I have just fallen for Louise Erdrich. I found The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse at the library, on tape, in a rich, low voice that almost sings the Ojibwe. In honesty, I had seen it before, and snuck quick glances at it as I passed. But only in my mad haring back and forth across the state in November, in need of company in the car, did I work up the courage to take it home.

I had read Erdrich once before and enjoyed her company, but Four Souls is a very different and grimmer book than this one. Four Souls tears a woman out of the woods and watches her disintegrate. Last Report on the Miracles at Little no Horse brings a woman into the woods and watches her blossom and suffer and love and grow old — and draw strength out of the earth.

This is the story of Father Damien Modeste. And — I’m not telling you anything you won’t read by page three — Father Damien is a woman. Through a series of misadventures and tearings up, he comes to the reservation on a spring flood. And falls in love with it. And stays.

I loved this book. It wanders in places, like the memory of an old man, and it is funny and painful at once, like Nanapush towed behind the moose in an open boat and bound to the seat by fishhooks.

The narrative moves along a straight path in the beginning, as Agnes becomes Father Damien. Erdrich gives some of the best description of music I have ever read, and the passion and absorbtion of playing. She writes profoundly erotic scenes in the most unlikely ways and places. A nun fully clothed on a piano bench becomes dangerous and anguished.

Conversely, two priests on either side of a wall of books, who discover that they are man and woman at night, are blessedly normal and safe. Those are her words. Passion can be human and natural and kindly too.

And this is one of the things I most loved: I loved this book for its balance. Conversions are mutual. Father Damien has very little natural arrogance, and what he has he loses. He learns the faith and stories and humor of his people. He gives them comfort and visits the victims of the flu epidemic. He forgives, not out of superiority, but as an act of community. And Erdrich, all the time, is forgiving him for all that his predecessors have destroyed.

And the balance between male and female — the book is founded on that. Agnes becomes Damien because she cannot be what she is called to be as Agnes. She loves the work. She loves men, but she does not submit to them. It is a grief that she cannot openly have both. But it is a warm and just satisfaction that she is free to choose, and that in the most paternalistic of structures, she will not sit still to be patronized.

This is a book of crisp northern pine woods. It feels sometimes less like a novel than like a string of beads, stories woven together. But it is circular . . . and humblingly beautiful.

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One Response to “Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse”

  1. Crafty Green Poet Says:

    This is one of my all time favourite books, thanks for reminding me why I love it so much

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