The Painted Drum, A Review of Sorts

I've often wondered how things interconnect within this life we live.

Everyone knows it's a small world and that's a frequent saying when someone runs into another person they haven't seen in a while or discover some previously hidden connection between themselves. I've had many people I've come across in my life that have some sort of connection and story of a time they spent in Albuquerque during the time I was growing up in the city.

They speak of specific places and the times they were there and I wonder if we were ever at the same place at the same time crossing paths with one another and not knowing we would later, several years later, become acquaintances and even friends.

The world is interconnected and it's best to acknowledge that. The world gets even smaller when it comes to indian country. Everyone's your cousin or at least they know a cousin of yours. When I visit home, my mom introduces me to at least three cousins I never knew I had but apparently always existed. I'm continually finding new family members and feeling awkward that I know nothing about them.

Louise Erdrich capitalizes on this intertwined aspect of human life in The Painted Drum and weaves three stories focusing on the drum as the central object. Each story is itself haunting as the drum moves through the lives of many people, influencing those it comes across and narrating its own existence through the lives of others.

My favorite story within The Painted Drum is the last. The story of innocent lives being led by the drum; by the guidance built into it. It's a beautiful story in a beautiful book about the old ways influencing the new.

There's a difficulty to these stories. None are generally uplifting or needlessly happy. They describe all aspects of today's modern indian, from the off-the-rez quarter-indian-trying to identify herself to the traditional indian to the indian that's just trying to survive. All are on the journey to finding their way, and we all know that journey isn't easy.

Each story is haunted by the past issues that will not let the characters in this book rest. Everyone's dealing with something, and that's what makes this book and these stories relatable and likable and hurtful and compelling.

There's no hiding from past ghosts or current maladies; all must eventually face the evil in their life and overcome it. We cheer for these characters and stumble along with them because they all remind us of ourselves as indians today. They remind us of our longings for home yet our passion to keep traveling; to keep moving. They remind us of the past we're trying to escape from when all we need is to find home again.

The beauty of this book isn't found in the masterful writing of Erdrich (even though there's much beauty to be found there). The beauty is found in the effect the book has on natives, young and old, to never forget where they came from and to never stop moving.

Steve Dragswolf