Book by book, over the past three decades, Louise Erdrich has built one of the most moving and engrossing collections of novels in American literature. Few writers have done as much to help modern readers consider the position of Native Americans within a national culture that has denigrated, ignored and romanticized them. And yet her books never feel like a whip for right-thinking people to lash themselves with for the ill treatment of Indians. In rich, loosely linked stories about Native and European families in and around the fictional town of Argus, N.D., she explores our conflicted desires to belong and exclude, desires that can motivate any of us — Native or immigrant — toward acts of devotion or cruelty.
Crimes sit at the center of some of Erdrich’s most powerful stories. She’s particularly interested in the trail of blood left through the lives of survivors and ancestors. The previous novel in her North Dakota cycle, the luxuriously complex “Plague of Doves,” which was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize, followed the reverberations of a lynching near the Ojibwe reservation in 1911.