>The New Yorker: "The Reptile Garden" by Louise Erdrich

>Except that the dramatic moment on which this story hinges has a false ring to it, I liked this story. It is told by Evelina, a young woman of mixed Indian and Caucasian blood from the reservation who leaves home for the University of North Dakota. She doesn’t fit in, but she immerses herself in poetry, eventually discovering Anais Nin. Her cousin feeds her acid, sending her on a bad trip that frightens her, and she retreats into a job as a psychiatric aide in a mental hospital. At the hospital she becomes infatuated with Nonette, a manic-depressive who is manipulating her, and when the girl goes home Evelina has a breakdown, or an acid flashback, or is otherwise immobilized. This is where the story itself breaks down, for me, although it comes back together when her cousin comes to visit. Even though I don’t buy this important turning point in the story, the writing otherwise is fantastic, as in this passage when Evelina’s parents take her to college:

“My father, so thin and athletic, looked almost frail with shock, while my mother, whose beauty was still remarkable, and who was known on the reservation for her silence and reserved, had left off her characteristic gravity. Her face and my father’s were naked with love. It wasn’t something that we talked about – love. But they allowed me this one clear look at it. It blazed from them. And then they left.”

And there is more like that. Because Erdrich has a novel coming out soon, I have to wonder if this is excerpted from it. But even if it is, this story hangs together nicely and stands alone. This is a good, but not a great, story.

January 28, 2008: “The Reptile Garden” by Louise Erdrich

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