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emew&\L Pernia Red by Debra Magpie Earling BlueHen (Penguin Putnam), 2002, 296 pp., $24.95 On the surface Ferma Red teUs the shimmering story of a beautiful sixteen -year-old girl on Montana's Flathead Indian Reservation in the 1940s. But hidden below is another world entirely, where everything you experience is different. In the surface story,.the lovely but self-destructive Louise White Elk is buffeted by circumstances that took her mother prematurely, forced her to live in soul-searing poverty and surrounded her with men rendered foolish by her dazzle. Bouncing from school to school, Louise grabs onto marriage as the only thing that wiU save her. But her marriage, even though it's to a boy who has loved her since childhood, is founded on lust and false motives and so is doomed; it lasts all of four days. Only when nature snatches one of the few people Louise truly loves does she begin a brutal journey into maturity. The process takes place during the savage Montana winter, which burrows into the hearts and minds of the reservation's residents until whatever human kindness they have is devoured by cold and hunger . People careen between rage and resignation and are driven to betray their truest selves. When Louise denies knowing her husband, Baptiste Yellow Knife, for the sake of a meal and a warm ride home, she can sink no lower, and the story takes a turn toward spring and redemption. It would have been easy for Earling to have limited her book to this less ambitious story, with its fiery heroine . But the novel Earling has given us takes the reader through the looking glass into a world where Ufe and landscape intertwine in an ontology based on sensate experience. In the land of the Flathead, every vista communicates a single message: at best, life's purchase on the planet is tenuous. As quickly as a headUghtstunned deer can crash through a windshield, the Montana landscape can snuff out life. The dead deer, a family of five frozen in the river: nature claims each with equal indifference . Being alert and reading the signs are matters of life and death. To read this book is to discover that the wind has color; the sky, texture; and fear, flavor. Even Earling's syntax testifies to the predominance of phenomenology. Her short, simple, subject-verb-object pattern expresses that it's the thing itself—whether a ripple on a river or a leer at a bar— that must be apprehended if you are to survive. The Missouri Review · 191 This points to what is possibly Ferma Red's greatest weakness: its lack of dialogue. Earling lets us know what her rich, varied characters are thinking but almost nothing of how they express it. Rather, she uses beautiful language to convey what is fundamentaUy inchoate and so shows us not only what Louise knows but how she knows what she knows. Given Earling's lovely, expressive writing, the best way to enjoy Ferma Red is to surrender to it—to let it puU you like a Ughtning flash on a distant mountain range. Like sunrise spreading over a valley. Like a river named Flathead flowing through Montana. (PS) Still Life with Waterfall by Eamon Grennan Graywolf, 2002, 72 pp., $14 (paper) In Still Life with Waterfall, Eamon Grennan takes his cue from Pierre Bonnard, the French painter considered to be the last Impressionist, and in doing so Ulustrates the troubled relationship between artist and subject . The epigraph to hispoem "Why?" quotes Bonnard as saying, "I like to create a painting round an empty space"; and indeed, after looking at enough of that painter's nudes and landscapes, you begin to suspect the bright colors and decorative scenery. It's as if anything gloomier were detiberately withheld. Grennan's own writing has a charm comparable to Bonnard's, although he's much more careful to break his own speU. The poet tips us off early to his mixed view of nature. The first poem in the coUection, "At Work," strives to overthrow the sweetness of the book's title. Grennan describes a marshhawk"patrolling/possibiUty," soaring above the "marsh hay" and "dune...


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