Cover image for Perma Red
Perma Red
Earling, Debra Magpie.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : BlueHen Books, [2002]

Physical Description:
296 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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One of the top 10 picks for the July/August Book Sense 76. Louise White Elk dreams of both belonging and escape, and of discovering love and freedom on her own terms. But she is a red-haired, tough, and beautiful temptation, and at least three men, each more dangerous than the other, want to control and possess her: Police Officer Charlie Kicking Woman, who struggles between worlds; charismatic but scary Baptiste, who refuses to yield to anyone; and Harvey Stoner, who owns nearly everything. On the reservation, danger looms everywhere, rising out of fear and anger, deprivation, hunger, and poverty. But just as often for Louise, and for those she loves, danger arises from longing and desire. And from making a choice. Perma Red is a love-crossed saga about a young woman coming of age under perilous circumstances, and about the consequences of her often contradictory desires. In this breathtaking tale of the American West, a tragic love story unfolds against a classic clash of cultures. In the tradition of Michael Dorris's Yellow Raft in Blue Water and the novels of Louise Erdrich, Perma Red is an enthralling, devastating debut by a commanding new voice.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

«When Louise White Elk was nine, Baptiste Yellow Knife blew a fine powder in her face and told her she would disappear.» So begins a love story of uncommon depth and power, a love story that is as painful as it is transcendent, a love story in which the lovers, like Birkin and Ursula in Lawrence's Women in Love, are unwilling to diminish themselves in the act of joining together but are equally unable to turn away. Set in the years following World War II on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, Earling's superb first novel throws two indomitable characters together in a tightly circumscribed world and gives them free rein to bang into the furniture and each other. A fiery mix of tantalizing contradictions, Louise is a red-haired temptress who yearns to escape the reservation and to experience every kind of freedom on the menu, but she can't avoid her magnetic attraction to Yellow Knife, whose devotion to the old ways and whose shaman-like intensity threaten to shackle Louise even as they offer their own kind of liberation. As they spar with each other--and with Charlie Kicking Woman, a tribal police officer also under Louise's spell--the lovers face both threats and temptations from the white world outside the reservation. Coming-of-age novels set on reservations are a rich part of contemporary literature, of course, and Earling's effort fits securely into the tradition of Welch, Erdrich, and others, but it stands on its own just fine. The Lawrentian psychodrama that emerges from the Louise-Baptiste relationship gives the novel a richness that transcends the story's time and place but that, simultaneously, brings the larger theme of cultural clash into even sharper focus. Let's hope we hear much more from Earling, who is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation. Bill Ott.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Earling follows the literary trail blazed by Louise erdrich in her poignant if familiar debut novel, which explores life in the tiny town of Perma, Mont., through the adventures of the restless Louise White elk as she struggles with a problematic passion for irresistible bad boy Baptiste Yellow Knife. The tempestuous duo's love-hate relationship is complicated by Charlie Kicking Woman, the local police officer who admires Louise from afar even as she breaks up his marriage. The other romantic subplots are less captivating - Louise's affair with the reservation's white real estate mogul, Harvey Stoner, is contrived and stilted, and Baptiste's attempts to arouse Louise's jealousy are even more forgettable. Narrated alternately by Louise, Baptiste and Charlie, the plot veers between hallucinatory, poetic descriptions of reservation life and tumultuous romantic encounters as Louise and Baptiste conduct their erotic duel, until the passions finally give way to murder. When Harvey decides to attack Baptiste, Louise and Charlie are left to make their own pivotal choices. earling offers first-rate characterizations, and she does an equally fine job portraying tribal life in the Flatland Nation. The predictable and disorganized plot makes this book less memorable than it might have been, but there's little doubt that earling has considerable potential. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In this beautiful first novel, set on the Flathead Reservation of Montana in the 1940s, Earling traces the youth and young adulthood of Louise White Elk and the men who try to win her heart and soul. A red-headed, mixed-blood temptress, Louise always has a man or two, none of whom is any good for her. Throughout, a third-person narrative alternates with a first-person account by Charlie Kicking Woman, the police officer who tracked down Louise when she ran away repeatedly as a child but whose interest in the woman is less than professional. Louise is also entangled with Baptiste Yellow Knife, who adheres to the old ways and resists all contact with whites and authorities. The abject poverty is keenly felt, as is the pride that allows one to prevail and the resignation that keeps one from aspiring to more. This novel will stand proudly among its peers in Native American literature and should have strong appeal to fans of Louise Erdrich. Debbie Bogenschutz, Cincinnati State Technical & Community Coll. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

A Native American, Earling (English, Univ. of Montana) has written a remarkable first novel that rivals N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn, Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, and Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine. Set in the 1940s on the Flathead Indian Reservation, the story of the beautiful and reckless Louise White Elk, loved by three men who vie brutally with her and with each other for her control, is developed in snatches of third-person narration. Louise's story is picked up in alternate chapters by a first-person narrator, Charlie Kicking Woman, who, as a police officer, is himself situated precariously between the worlds of the reservation and the white man, between his marriage to Aida and his obsession with Louise, between law and lawlessness, between hero and murderer. All categories are questioned and relentlessly examined in this novel, but the result is not so much an exploration of postmodern liminality as it is an evocation of unsettling poetry, both smashingly physical and intensely spiritual. All collections of contemporary American literature. J. P. Baumgaertner Wheaton College (IL)