Saturday, January 12, 2013

Plague of Doves, by Louise Erdrich

I started listening to Plague of Doves in early December--then I was out of town for a week and sick for two weeks and didn't get out to walk (which is when I listen to audio books). When I returned to the novel, I had a hard time remembering all the connections between the books multiple narrators and narrative threads. So, I am quite sure I have missed a lot. But here's the basic story:

The book opens with five members of a white family being killed in their home in Pluto, ND, near the Ojibwe reservation. A baby girl survives.  The author then begins the narration of Evelina Harp, a young Native American girl who is enamored with classmate Corwin Peace, whose family plans a large role in the history of Pluto and the reservation, and loves the stories of her grandfather Mooshum. From Mooshum, Eve hears the story of the murder and the subsequent hanging of a group of Native American men who discovered the crime scene; although Mooshum was with the group, his life was spared, a mystery that is solved near the end of the book. Judge Antone Coutts provides a second narrative point of view; as a descendant of one of Pluto's founders and the observer of wrongdoing in his courtroom, he recounts the very early history of the community, as well as stories about some notable crimes and his own love life. Marn Wolde, a local farm girl who falls for and runs off with the evangelist Billy Peace, is a third narrator. At the end of the book, a fourth narrator emerges to tell readers what happened to the baby girl who survived the family massacre.

Native American and Anglo families in Pluto and on the reservation are inextricably linked--through marriage,  through shared geography, and especially through their shared history. In particular Eve and Judge Coutts reveal the history of the community--in a chronologically disjointed manner--while telling their own engaging stories. As is always the case with Erdrich, the book is packed with details that add depth and raise questions. I must admit I wish I had read this book in print, so I could easily look back and forth to better understand the chronology and genealogy. Nonetheless, I found Erdrich's lyrical prose, complex and quirky characters, and nuanced look at the ties that bind people together rewarding. And the ending did surprise me without feeling gimmicky, another plus.

Favorite passages:
I saw that the loss of their land was lodged inside of them forever. This loss would enter me too. Over time, I came to know that the sorrow was a thing that each of them covered up according to their character. My old uncle through his passionate discipline. My mother through strict kindness and cleanly order. As for my grandfather, he used the patient art of ridicule.

If only they were not near death, this would be a very pleasant night.

When we are young, the words are scattered all around us. As they are assembled by experience, so also are we, sentence by sentence, until the story takes shape.

Old love, middle love, the kind of love that knows itself, that knows that nothing lasts, is a desperate shared wildness.

My work in the cemetery told me everyday what happens when you let an unsatisfactory present go on long enough. It becomes your entire history.

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