(side note: I have a new story out in the January/February issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which is really huge for me, because….Ursula LeGuin has had stories published in that magazine! Also I’ve been trying to get in there for, oh, about 13 years…)
Back in the summer, I was going through a LaRose / Louise Erdrich obsession, so, in my obsessed state, I decided to go through the novel and make a list of how Louise Erdrich describes and uses her characters’ hearts. I remember being interested in a couple things: first, simply, that people’s hearts kept coming up throughout the book. It seemed an unusual descriptive point to keep circling around. But also I was interested in how Erdrich sidestepped cliche and managed to make her heart descriptions meaningful, moving, and illuminating. That’s really hard to do. It’s like trying to describe multiple characters’ tears (“Never describe your character’s tears,” I remember one of my writing teachers once telling me). Just rereading the experts below makes me want to reread LaRose again or maybe read everything Erdrich has ever written. But what about Shirley Jackson?! What about all the great sounding books on all the best of 2016 lists? What about rereading, and rereading, and rereading The Throwback Special, my latest obsession? Anyhow, here are a lot of ways that Erdrich describes hearts.
He lets Landreaux come close enough for him to take the infallible shot. Closer and closer yet. There it is. Peter squeezes the trigger gently with his heart exploding. Nothing.
The birds were silent. Snow was falling off the trees that day. She had scrubbed her body red with snow. She threw off everything and lay naked in the snow asking to be dead. She tried not to move, but the cold stabbed ice into her heart and she began to suffer intensely. A person from the other world came. The being was pale blue without definite form. It took care of her, dressed her, tied on her makazinan, blew the lice off, and wrapped her in a new blanket, saying, Call upon me when this happens and you shall live.
Landreaux sat down at the table, touched the edge. He didn’t want to speak, to bring up the thing he dreaded. He could feel the tension bubbling up inside, the quickened pump of his heart.
The agreement, whatever we call it, Peter started.
Landreaux just nodded, staring at his fingers.
The question is, said Peter.
Landreaux’s heart just quit.
The question is, said Peter. What’s it doing to him?
Landreaux’s heart started beating again.
What’s it doing to him, he weakly said.
You dove, he said. He stroked her shoulder all one way, like feathers.
A mean dove. Who will peck out your heart, she said.
That would hurt.
I can’t help myself. Will you stay with me, she said, suddenly, if I go crazy?
There was desolation in her voice, so he tried to joke.
Well, you already are crazy.
He felt tears on his chest. Oh, he’d gone too far.
In a good way. I love your crazy!
The sugar would jangle her nerves, she thought, but it didn’t. It slowed her heart. A dopey, fuzzy wash of pleasure covered her and she nearly blanked out before she made it to the couch.
Then she had another thought— their tradition worked. Dazzling act. How could she or Peter harm the father of the son they’d been given? She closed her eyes and felt the heavy warmth of LaRose as she rocked him to sleep,