I have always enjoyed short stories and last night I discovered “Saint Marie” in an anthology on my bookshelf. Having just read The Round House, I was interested in reading something else by Erdrich.
“Saint Marie” is a chapter excerpt from Erdrich’s first novel, Love Medicine, published in 1984. As a stand-alone story, it tells a dark tale of Marie, a fourteen-year-old half-Native American girl who, with conflicted intentions, enters a Catholic convent. It’s not a story of devotion or love of God. It’s a story of revenge and a three-way fight between Marie, the “Dark One,” and the twisted beliefs of Sister Leopolda.
Marie’s desire is to overcome Leopolda, become a saint, and, in an act of payback, shut her out from the gates of heaven. Sister Leopolda’s sadistic efforts to purge Marie of the devil result in the story’s ultimate conflict.
I enjoyed this story on a very basic level, reading about religion, devotion and personal conflict with evil. There is plenty of scholarly analysis out there and I won’t try to duplicate that here. Despite being an excerpt, “Saint Marie” has a short-story feel, and I felt that Poe-like fear as I was reading it, and enjoyed the symbolism and irony embedded throughout.
Little parts that jumped out and amused me make this story all the more enjoyable to read, as Erdrich has skillfully inserted dry humor into this sinister tale. For example, when Sister Leopolda shows Marie where she will be sleeping, on a cot behind the hot oven, Marie comments, “Looks like it could get warm there.” And when Leopolda tells her it is time to do God’s work, to make the bread, Marie replies, “If this is God’s work, I’ve done it all my life.”
Reading “Saint Marie” is a nice introduction to Erdrich’s writing style and an easy way to discover new things to read!