Short story review: “Red Moccasins” by Susan Power

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom. Short reviews of short fiction. This selection comes from the 1993 edition of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Louise Erdrich.

“Red Moccasins”
Susan Power

Rating: 5 out of 5.

How does Anna Thunder, a young Sioux widow, react to the loss and disease that surrounds her on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation?  It’s 1935 and, during a North Dakota blizzard, Anna’s only child, four-year-old Chaske, is battling the final stages of tuberculosis.

In this short story, published in The Best American Short Stories – 1993, Susan Power shows the strong cultural connection between family, death and tradition.  The story revolves around an intricate dancing costume that Anna is sewing for her niece Bernadine.  A special pair of red beaded moccasins will complete the costume, but they become instead an instrument of overwhelming grief and pain.

In the “Contributors’ Notes” in this collection of short stories, Power discusses how she grew up listening to her mother’s stories of growing up on the Sioux reservation.  When she’s asked why so many of her characters have to die, she says,

I explain that in our community – whether it be reservation or urban Indian area – death is a familiar companion who steals away too many of our young people.  I cannot ignore his presence, pretend I do not recognize his face.

She adds,

In writing “Red Moccasins” I had two images in mind:  the beguiling red slippers and a little towheaded boy who was dying.  He was rocked by a full-blooded Sioux woman – his mother – who was unable to keep him in this world.  I knew the images belonged together, but it became my mission to discover the connection.”

This moving story has all the elements of great short fiction.  Powerful images, descriptive details, and strong human reactions as her characters are slammed with painful loss.

Susan Power is a Standing Rock Dakota author from Chicago, Illinois.  She is a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School.  After a short career in law, she switched to a writing career and earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

In addition to essays and short fiction, she has published two novels.  The Grass Dancer won the PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Fiction.  Roof Walker is a collection of fiction and non-fiction.  Her latest novel, Sacred Wilderness, was published in February 2014.  She teaches at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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