The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, by Louise Erdrich

In the closing lines of Louise Erdrich's new novel, Father Damien Modeste, who has been the priest at the Objibwe reservation of Little No Horse for many years, is being buried in the nearby lake. "As the dark water claimed him, his features blurred. His body wavered for a time between the surface and the feminine depth below," Erdrich writes.

That water language concludes the internal metaphoric structure of this complicated narrative, which draws alternately upon water and music for expressing the mystery of boundary and transformation between multiple worlds: men and women, Native American and Christian, animal and human, comic and tragic, human and divine. Through a series of stories that move back and forth in time, the "shape-shifting" that typifies Native American storytelling is brought into conversation with the Christian idea of "conversion," and the history of cultural encounter is re-formed in a way that preserves an essential, shared loveliness in each tradition without falsifying the loss and pain that accompanies the encounter between the two.

This shape-shifting is embodied by Father Damien himself, for Damien is actually Agnes DeWitt. Readers know the priest's real identity from the very beginning, for it is the richness of its implications that is the mystery, not the deception itself.