Monday, June 22, 2009

"The Dress" by Louise Erdrich

"Behind her eyes and nose Celestine felt a prickling, a surge of heat that she didn't even recognize at first as tears.  It had been so long, almost too long to remember, since she had cried. She didn't now, either; it made no sense to start over something as ordinary as the issue of a dress, although that was, Celestine now realized, connected to larger things in life."

 Twelve year old Dot is captain of her softball team, practically lives in her uniform (her mother washes it while she sleeps), and, more than anything else in the world, wants a new first-baseman's glove from the Sears catalog. But, as Celestine, a single mother in desperate financial straits, takes note of Dot's sudden growth spurt and changing body, she knows the money must be spent on new clothes before the start of Junior High. 

 The glove costs $22.95.  Celestine has twenty dollars set aside for emergencies. Dot has saved nine dollars from her birthday and bottle refunds.  Upon finding a special in the catalog, "Grab Bag Dresses One Dollar Each", Dot proposes a deal. They purchase the glove and six dresses - one for each day of the school week, plus Mass on Sunday.

On the first day of school, a grab bag dress is unwrapped and found to be utterly hideous.  In addition, the new glove elicits less than the anticipated admiration, and Dot begins to feel a mistake has been made.  Disaster strikes when the remaining five dresses are found to be identical to the first! 

The embarrassment and ridicule Dot faces when she realizes the entire school is taking bets on the date her outfit will change is brilliantly captured, as well as her solution for dealing with it.

All readers know the feeling when an author's writing really 'works' for them and, after reading a single short story, I'm pretty sure I've found that here.  Louise Erdrich has been on my 'authors to read' list for ages, but it was a mention of  her anthology, The Red Convertible, at The Betty and Boo Chronicles that finally convinced me the time had come.  I clicked right over to the library website and the book was in my hands just a few days later.

The title story is my usual starting place with anthologies but, in this case, the broken spine automatically fell open to "The Dress".  Just a quick scan of the first paragraph and I was compelled to continue.  The following morning, a Border's 40% off coupon appeared in my inbox, the library book was returned, and I purchased a copy of my own.  I'm looking forward to slowly making my way through this collection! 

Have you read anything by Louise Erdrich? It won't be long before I'll be looking for novel recommendations!

Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.  Stop over to see who else has a short story to review, or leave a link to yours.


  1. I enjoy many of Erdrich's novels, one I would recommend is The Painted Drum. But my absolute favorite is her YA series about an Ojibwe girl named Omakayas. It is historical fiction and the first book is "The Birchbark House" and the second is "The Game of Silence". I just discovered that there is a third "The Porcupine Year" that I haven't read yet but I can't wait to go out and find a copy.

  2. I took this one from the library once but never got to it (on my list again it goes). I loved: Plague of Doves and Pained Drum by this author.

  3. This story sounds great. I haven't read anything by this author, but I'm familiar with some of the novels, which seems to have a Native American feel. The Plague of White Doves, The Painted Drum, and Love Medicine are all novels by this author, which have been pretty popular. Again, I haven't read them, but I just may give her short stories a try.

  4. I just love how you read so many different kinds of books and stories! I'm very happy with my British novels but so enjoy your varied tastes.

  5. Icedream - I had no idea she wrote a YA series! The Painted Drum was one of the books I looked at before buying the short story collection - thanks for the recommendation!

    Diane - Another mention of The Painted Drum! I'm also considering Plague of Doves on audio. Thanks!

  6. Lisa - I just loved this story! There were so many of her novels on the shelf that I didn't dare choose one without a recommendation...and I knew I could count on my blogging friends.

    Darlene - I never though of my taste as varied, but it seems to be heading in that direction since I started blogging. It has been fun to try some new things and, so far, I haven't been disappointed!

  7. A bargain book about bargain dresses. Cool!

  8. First, The Red Convertible looks delicious! Definitely heading to the library to look for that one.

    Second, I am so glad you received your books already. Enjoy them--I am glad they have found a new home!

  9. I *loved* The Master Butcher's Singing Club - it got a great reception with my book club - and I couldn't stand Plague of Doves - again, my club was unanimous. Hope you find some more Erdrich that you like!

  10. I love how you totally connected with this book and then the 40% coupon showed up..this book was to be yours for the keeping. Hope you enjoy all of the stories!

  11. John - LOL!

    Kim - Can't wait to get to the books! The Enchanted April is up next and I think Elizabeth and Her German Garden would be a good follow-up.

    Tara - I wonder if Erdrich will be one of those hit or miss authors. I'll definitely look into The Master Butcher's Singing Club. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Staci - I've only read one more story, but it was good, too. It was too much of a coincidence getting that coupon the next morning - it was a sign that I HAD to own the book ;-)

  12. Hi JoAnn! Me again!
    If you liked this short story, I strongly recomend The Beet Queen. It's mostly about Dot, which I liked a lot, since she is one of Louises characters I can best relate to-for the age proximity, of course :)

  13. Hi Ivy,
    Thank you so much for the comment! I knew that several of the stories in this collection contain characters from Erdrich's novels, but it doesn't say which stories and novels go together. I thought Dot's character was so well done and will definitely look for The Beet Queen. Thanks for the recommendation!


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