“The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse” by Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich’s Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse centers on Father Damien Modeste, a Catholic priest to an Ojibwe territory, and Sister Leopolda, a nun who may have been a saint. These two characters anchor a story with dozens of supporting characters. I was thankful for the family tree at the beginning of the book, and referred to it many times.

His hand, long and crooked, beautifully worn and supple, oval nails of opaque tortoise, surprised him on the stem of the glass. For a long time he had been old, then he was past old. A living mummy. Of all people to have become so ancient! Himself! He put his hand to his hair, just wisps of thin and brittle stuff parted by the white scrawl of the scar that unwrote so many of his early memories. And the heart in his chest, so touchy, so tremulous. Easy things had become difficult. For instance, children. He had always loved to be around them, but now their exuberance was rattling. Their voices and quick movements dizzied him. He had to sit, allow his heart to settle, and restore his strength. And his hearing had become quite tricky–sometimes he heard everything, the undertones in Chopin’s preludes, which he still played, though with a fumbling energy, the rustle of his own bedsheets, and at other times all sounds were cloaked by the roar of an unseen ocean. (4, 5)

Erdrich starts near the end of Damien’s life, then takes the reader back to his complicated beginnings. Damien’s history is interwoven with letters he has written to the Pope(s) over the decades. When a representative from the Vatican finally arrives, it is to investigate miracles supposedly performed by the late Sister Leopolda, who holds a prominant place in Father Damien’s memory and history.

The interplays between things are what made the book both dizzying and dazzling for me: Damien and Leopolda, good and evil, Ojibwe and Catholic, male and female, real and mythic. The panoply of supporting characters, in contrast to Damien and Leopolda, appeared and disappeared in ways that felt strangely brief to me, given the rich characterizations of the central figures. In looking over descriptions of the prolific Erdrich’s other works, though, LRotMaLNH is situated in the same fictional territory and peopled with many of the same characters as several of her other books. Erdrich has lovely, evocative prose, and thoughtful, provocative characters. I’ve read a few of her books, but feel I might want to go back to the beginning now and read them all.

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