Perma Red

A Novel
Named One of "The Great American Novels”

“Boldly drawn and passionate.”—LOUISE ERDRICH
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Named one of “The Great American Novels” by The Atlantic

Bold, passionate, and more urgent than ever, Debra Magpie Earling’s powerful classic novel is reborn in this new edition.

On the Flathead Indian Reservation, summer is ending, and Louise White Elk is determined to forge her own path. Raised by her Grandmother Magpie after the death of her mother, Louise and her younger sister have grown up into the harsh social and physical landscape of western Montana in the 1940s, where Native people endure boarding schools and life far from home. As she approaches adulthood, Louise hopes to create an independent life for herself and an improved future for her family—but three persistent men have other plans.

Since childhood, Louise has been pursued by Baptiste Yellow Knife, feared not only for his rough-and-tumble ways, but also for the preternatural gifts of his bloodline. Baptiste’s rival is his cousin, Charlie Kicking Woman: a man caught between worlds, torn between his duty as a tribal officer and his fascination with Louise. And then there is Harvey Stoner. The white real estate mogul can offer Louise her wildest dreams of freedom, but at what cost?
As tensions mount, Louise finds herself trying to outrun the bitter clutches of winter and the will of powerful men, facing choices that will alter her life—and end another’s—forever.

Publish Date
8.5 × 5.5 × 1.5 in
17 oz

Praise and Prizes

  • “Boldly drawn and passionate.”

    Louise Erdrich
  • “Spare, tough-minded and big hearted.”

    USA Today
  • “[Perma Red has] beautiful language, complex characters, a legitimate and earned sense of where you are in the story. It’s also a gnarly, unflinching look at violence against women. The writing is lovely, emotionally resonant and filled to the brim with depth and pathos for the Flathead and the people who live there. But it’s a novel of pain and sorrow first and foremost, and it’s a pain and sorrow that looks a lot like it has for the last half millenia.”

    Thomas Plank, Missoulian
  • “Dreamy and lyrical, frequently achieving a shimmering beauty.”

    The Oregonian
  • “A fever of a story, keenly fighting for air and answers.”

    San Francisco Chronicle
  • “It’s not just erotic desire that [Earling] does so well… . Louise’s world is one in which all the senses are always on hyper-alert… . This young girl’s struggle to save her own life makes for a novel that has you on hyper-alert as you read: alive, alive to the world it conjures.”

    Alan Cheuse, NPR
  • “Haunting and memorable … Earling’s deliberate pacing gives an otherworldly feel to the grim circumstances of the time, and makes real the hypnotic effect of this slim, green-eyed woman on the men around her.”

    Seattle Times
  • “Beautifully written … Establishes Earling as the literary heir to great American Indian writers such as James Welch and Louise Erdrich.”

    Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • “A new writer comes straight at us out of the West, bypassing the conscious mind in describing her world of Indian reservations, so that we almost smell that world before we understand it… . [Earling’s] writing is the most physical I have read in a long time… . Verbs and adjectives dance in new configurations. All this and plot too.”

    Los Angeles Times
  • “What a story! Vivid and startling, this heartbreaking novel tells the story of Louise White Elk, a wild and unattainable girl growing to womanhood on the Flathead Reservation in Northwest Montana. Beautiful but crushed by poverty and the sorrow inflicted by the clash of cultures, harsh circumstance, and the friction between love and power, Louise is pursued by several men. A wealthy white land speculator and a rodeo cowboy tempt her. The tribal policeman who tries repeatedly to save her cannot subdue his tainted motives. But it is the violent, unpredictable Baptiste Yellowknife, with his connection to the old ways, who holds great power over her. Though she uses each to help her find her way, no one and nothing is simple here. These complex characters and the rough beauty of the Flathead Reservation will stay with you long after you close the cover.”

    Keelin Kane
    Next Chapter Books, St. Paul, MN
  • “From the very first sentence of Perma Red by Debra Magpie Earling, Louise White Elk’s struggle is unrelenting, swallowing readers into a story that shocks, and somehow, brims with complicated, raw hope.”

    Maggie Doherty, Flathead Beacon
  • “Transcendent, powerful, and has a gravity all its own.”

    Jamie Ford,
  • “This is a book I’ve read again and again, and each time I do, Earling’s words are a treasured and welcomed power.”

    Sasha LaPointe, Publishers Weekly
    “10 Books by Native Authors That Left Their Mark on Me”
  • “Perma Red intertwines land and people with the invisible forces of society, nature, and what may exist beyond that, using exquisite sentences that turn into page after page of unforgettable rhythm.”

    Elissa Washuta, The Atlantic