Louise Erdrich's new novel is a sequel to 2001's The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, in which the tribal lands of the Ojibwe on the Northern Plains were confiscated by scheming land agents. Four Souls opens in the 1920s when Fleur Pillager, one of the dispossessed, sets off for Minneapolis to take her revenge. She finds the lavish mansion built from the forests and quarries of her reservation and hires on as a laundress. Soon enough the beautiful Fleur has seduced the owner, John James Mauser, and become his wife. Instead of murdering him outright, she presides with steely disdain over the gradual destruction of his life. Mauser's fortune slips away as he is consumed by guilt, certain that the autism of their son is God's punishment for ravaging tribal lands and taking his careless pleasure with Native American women. When he flees the country, Fleur returns to the reservation. But reclaiming her land—in a daring poker game—turns out to be easier than reclaiming her soul, which has been shriveled by whiskey, hate and city living.
Erdrich masterfully evokes the clash between Native American psychology and modern values, alternating between two narrators. The first is a tribal elder who still understands the magic of an owl's cough ball (a mass of skulls, teeth and other undigestible bits) yet has no power against the lure of new linoleum. The second narrator is Mauser's spinsterish sister-in-law, who, embittered by her fate in society, casts her lot with Fleur. On occasion, Erdrich's lyrical descriptions of Ojibwe beliefs run on and overwhelm the story. But even in these slack moments, she sustains a literary voice like no other, familiar and so foreign at the same time.