Thursday, September 28, 2006



Jason Ezell reviews THE LAST REPORT ON THE MIRACLES AT LITTLE NO HORSE by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins, 2001):

Once Sister Cecilia learns to play with the passion that she finds in the music of Chopin, the Mother Superior knows she must quash this dangerous excess of feeling. Cecilia cannot abide this repression and so leaves her habit and the convent behind in order to live in the secular world. She becomes the lover--but never wife--of Berndt, a farmer who is killed in the get-away chase of a renowned bank robbery. Once more she is confronted with a terrible personal loss but manages to maintain a dogged and deep sense of spiritual purpose. After a sweeping flood, she comes upon the corpse of a Father Damien Modeste and decides that, this time, she will much more thoroughly shed her former identity: she will become this priest to the Ojibwe tribe. She takes on his clothes and his mission, and the bulk of the book concerns her ministry to the people who live on the Little No Horse reservation, a ministry that strains the personal, the familial, the cultural, and the political to the point of snapping.

Orchestrated shifts in time and point of view are an integral part of this novel's creation of a felt sense of history. The social history of the West is carefully filtered through the experience of the individual. The story incorporates the absurd, giving a nod to such folk forms as the tall tale or fable, so that both a sense of humor and spiritual gravity become simultaneously possible. Because of consistent attention to description and psychology, the characters are easily endeared to the reader, while the book questions our understanding of social norms again and again. The pace is deliberate and careful, punctuated by larger-than-life events that are experienced by character and reader as everyday epiphany.

Jason Ezell, Humanities Department



Can you tell us a little more about Cecelia's ministry AS Father Modeste? What about this service strained "the personal, the familial, the cultural, and the political to the point of snapping"?
I am sorry to be so slow about responding to your question and sorry that it's been quite some time since I wrote this review and so my memory also somewhat vague.

I think I might indicate a little better what I meant here, though. Two factors, as I see it, contributed to Father Modeste's ministry's being a strain: the fact Modeste had to continually hide his earlier identity as a woman and -- because "his" ministry spanned so many years -- the historical and cultural conditions that pitted the traditional against the modernized, the indigenous against the settlers, the Christian against the non-, the more affluent against the poor, and women against men, etc. That Father Modeste had to minister to the needs of his community in times of such stark change, all while never exposing his past as Cecelia, is a source of dramatic tension in the novel.

I hope that helps clarify what I meant. If not, I'd be glad to talk more about any details I can remember. And thank you for your interest in what I think is a very good book!
Hi Jason,

Thank you for your response. There was nothing unclear about your original review. I was simply interested in knowing more about what life was like for Father Modeste. I also hoped to spark conversation among those who had read the book and who (like me) were intrigued by your review.
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