The Austin Chronicle

Summer Reading

Words gone wild! The best and the breeziest for beating the heat in 2002

By Amanda Eyre Ward, May 31, 2002, Books

When Louise White Elk was nine, Baptiste Yellow Knife blew a fine white powder in her face and told her she would disappear." So begins Perma Red (BlueHen, $24.95), the debut novel by Debra Magpie Earling, a love song to Louise and the story of her fight to remain visible against the desolate backdrop of her home. First, a history lesson: In 1855, the Salish and Kootenai Indians surrendered their claim to western Montana and northern Idaho. They received 100 miles of land in exchange -- an area adjacent to the Mission Mountains -- which became known as the Flathead Reservation. By the 1940s, life on this small reservation was harsh: Alcoholism and violence were rampant. Enter Louise, a red-haired beauty who captivates not only Baptiste -- the wildest Indian on the reservation -- but also the local policeman, the retired rodeo rider, the white man whose money brings him anything he wants, and just about everyone else who stumbles into the town of Dixon's bar. As Louise struggles to find herself, readers glimpse the magic underneath the rough exterior of the reservation, the lives filled with ghosts, dreams, and beauty. Like Michael Dorris and Louise Erdrich before her, Debra Earling transforms the bleakness of her characters' lives with the power of poetry, but also with the power of heartbreak.

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