The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich
But I was ultimately disappointed. Once the narration passed from Faye to the Ojibwe on the North Dakota reservation, I was bored. It was like every other story I’ve read by people fascinated by aboriginal peoples—reverent and wondering, but with little substantial to say. The stories were so typical as to be completely forgettable. It read like a mediocre public television documentary. I hate to say it but I didn’t care about anyone in the book except Faye. I was glad to get back to her in the end, but disappointed that she was settling for a relationship with the sculptor who seemed to me a huge big fake.
I was particularly disappointed with the novel as it focused on the theme of the influence of the dead on living people. Yes that was there, but there seemed little of interest attached to the theme, except for the notion that dead children came back or at least were perceived as birds. There was no Indian mythology that was either fascinating or that seemed to provide a meaningful lesson to non-indigenous people.
The writing was good, very good in places, but it wasn’t used to advance significant plot, themes, or characters. That writing is all that keeps me from rating this novel as frankly awful.