I'm sad to report that I didn't love the new Louise Erdrich novel The Painted Drum. She has been my favorite author ever since I read Love Medicine the summer before junior year of college to prepare for my American Lit II class where the novel was an assigned text. It was the first section of the book with June Morrissey walking out into the blizzard that haunted me and made such an impression that years later I still remember that scene. There is an echo in The Painted Drum of that scene, and it works as a strong scene but the book doesn't connect with me the way Love Medicine did or The Last Reports on the Miracles at Little No Horse or some of her other novels.
Even though I finished it this morning before work I can't say without checking what the book was really about. I suppose it traced the history of a ceremonial drum back to its origins and where it is in the present time and how it has, in some way, impacted the lives of everyone who came in contact with it.
But anytime I started to connect to a character, Erdrich would shift in viewpoint to another set of characters and another era. It's a very lyrical and beautifully written novel, but it doesn't resonate (no pun intended). Because there are these viewpoint shifts and shifts in chronology, Erdrich somehow does not build a flowing coherent novel. It's odd because she used a similar framework in Love Medicine, but to far greater effect.
There are the usual ties to her other novels as Fleur Pillager is mentioned and briefly appears as a child, and old man Nanapush is referred to. So she is still playing around the edges of the world and reservation she created some twenty years ago. I know that her next novel will likely be a strong one because in the past when I've been less than blown away she has delivered a knockout.