Louise Erdrich, "Demolition"

A young gravedigger and an older doctor have an on-off love affair.

(from The New Yorker, Dec. 25, 2006)

Once we got back together, I had to avoid Ted, as well as C.’s receptionist and all of her patients — the whole town in fact. But C. was the shout and I was the echo. I loved her even more than before.

This is a story about a lot of things, and I wonder if one of them has to do with a sense of justice. Indulge me, here — but only if you’ve read it. (Sorry, couldn’t find a link.) Our narrator, otherwise an upstanding guy, lies to his father about his affair and finds himself digging graves for years as a result. He later pursues a law degree. There’s a sweet bit of vengeance (the evil twin to justice) when Ted, whose reverse Midas touch has him creating ugliness all over town, tears down the wall full of bees. And when C. turns up at the end, during the strikingly nostalgic finale, she’s become an old lady. Perhaps she got what she deserved for favoring vanity over love. A kind of love. I dunno. Very cool, thought-provoking story.

Belle and Sebastian, “Dress Up In You”

3 thoughts on “Louise Erdrich, "Demolition"

  1. Barbara

    I LOVED this story; its subtlety, it’s sensuality. I hadn’t thought about the idea of its sense of justice. I don’t believe that C.’s aging is a punishment at all. (Are you, perhaps, still young?) I believe that C.’s change in physicality was proof that the narrator’s love had nothing to do with her beauty. The narrator finds himself feeling so much more at home, in the moment, in the sensuousness of the dilapidation of his home – the building and the love of C.

  2. The

    I read this story when it first appeared in the New Yorker, but then thought nothing more of it except that it was an unusually poignant story.

    Now, four months later, the plot and characterizations in the story are still so strong that they stay with me. I’d forgotten the title and author names of this story, and had to do a keyword search on Newyorker.com to find it.

    It’s rare for a story to stay with me this long. I’m dying to read it again. Simple passages from it strike to the heart – such as when the narrator looks up from his twilight job as the cemetery keeper and realizes to himself, with the same foolishness that anybody who has ever died in a duel for a lady’s honor, that he has wasted his life for a woman.

    The scene with the calm of the honey amid the chaos of the bees was a particularly nice touch, I think. The only other New Yorker story that has impressed me to this extent was Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Obscure Object”, which was so good I rushed out to buy “Middlesex” just to read it again.

  3. Katzeneurotic

    Oh my, this was a gorgeous reading, Louise is perfect yet again…the love scene were incredibly beautiful in their simplicity in which they were described.

    I was left under the impression that the narrator was somehow stuck in time, unable to actually jolt himself away from his tormentors, the dead, the bees, C., the house.

    And I thought that the episode in which he meets an old looking C. was the explanation for her behavior, she is basically exhibiting her old age and loss of charm in an aggressive manner, saying perhaps that she was afraid to accept him because she thought that at one point she would grow old and tired and in stark contrast with his youth, and, therefore, be rejected. It’s clear that that is not the case, as the narrator remains deeply connected to her…

    I’ve read this as a key fragment of the text: “The present was enough, though my work in the cemetery told me every day what happens when you let an unsatisfactory go on too long: it becomes your entire history.”


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