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The Plague of Dovesby Louise Erdrich
Darker than many of Louise Erdrich's other works, A Plague of Doves is the story of the unsolved murder of a North Dakota family that will haunt the reader long after the pages have ceased turning.
"At the heart of Louise Erdrich's incandescent novel stands a tree. Roots deep in the North Dakota soil....Ringed with mating and mayhem, friendship and betrayal, stories shared and secrets kept, this tree spreads its branches through the pages of Erdrich's book: from a gritty, colorful adventure of 19th-century town-site expeditioners one arctic winter to the rueful, darkly comic sexual explorations of a naive l970s teenager named (appropriately!) Evelina." Diana Postlethwaite, Ms. Magazine (read the entire Ms. Magazine review)
Synopses & Reviews
Louise Erdrich's mesmerizing new novel, her first in almost three years, centers on a compelling mystery. The unsolved murder of a farm family haunts the small, white, off-reservation town of Pluto, North Dakota. The vengeance exacted for this crime and the subsequent distortions of truth transform the lives of Ojibwe living on the nearby reservation and shape the passions of both communities for the next generation. The descendants of Ojibwe and white intermarry, their lives intertwine; only the youngest generation, of mixed blood, remains unaware of the role the past continues to play in their lives.
Evelina Harp is a witty, ambitious young girl, part Ojibwe, part white, who is prone to falling hopelessly in love. Mooshum, Evelina's grandfather, is a seductive storyteller, a repository of family and tribal history with an all-too-intimate knowledge of the violent past. Nobody understands the weight of historical injustice better than Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, a thoughtful mixed blood who witnesses the lives of those who appear before him, and whose own love life reflects the entire history of the territory. In distinct and winning voices, Erdrich's narrators unravel the stories of different generations and families in this corner of North Dakota. Bound by love, torn by history, the two communities' collective stories finally come together in a wrenching truth revealed in the novel's final pages.
The Plague of Doves is one of the major achievements of Louise Erdrich's considerable oeuvre, a quintessentially American story and the most complex and original of her books.
"Erdrich's 13th novel, a multigenerational tour de force of sin, redemption, murder and vengeance, finds its roots in the 1911 slaughter of a farming family near Pluto, N.Dak. The family's infant daughter is spared, and a posse forms, incorrectly blames three Indians and lynches them. One, Mooshum Milk, miraculously survives. Over the next century, descendants of both the hanged men and the lynch mob develop relationships that become deeply entangled, and their disparate stories are held together via principal narrator Evelina, Mooshum Milk's granddaughter, who comes of age on an Indian reservation near Pluto in the 1960s and '70s and forms two fateful adolescent crushes: one on bad-boy schoolmate Corwin Peace and one on a nun. Though Evelina doesn't know it, both are descendants of lynch mob members. The plot splinters as Evelina enrolls in college and finds work at a mental asylum; Corwin spirals into a life of crime; and a long-lost violin (its backstory is another beautiful piece of the mosaic) takes on massive significance. Erdrich plays individual narratives off one another, dropping apparently insignificant clues that build to head-slapping revelations as fates intertwine and the person responsible for the 1911 killing is identified." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'History works itself out in the living,' says a chacarter in Louise Erdich's new novel, and, indeed, the history in 'The Plague of Doves' is something of a workout. She's challenged us before with complex, interconnected stories about the Ojibwe people of North Dakota, but here she goes for broke, whirling out a vast, fractured narrative, teeming with characters — ancestors, cousins, friends and... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) enemies, all separated and rejoined again and again in uncanny ways over the years. Worried about losing track, I started drawing a genealogical chart after a few chapters, but it was futile: a tangle of names and squiggling lines. That bafflement is clearly an intentional effect of this wondrous novel; the sprawling cast whose history Erdrich works through becomes a living demonstration of the unfathomable repercussions of cruelty. In the creepy, one-paragraph chapter that opens 'The Plague of Doves,' a man murders five members of a white family in Pluto, N.D., near the Ojibwe reservation in 1911. The chronology of the stories that follow is radically jumbled, but the massacre in Pluto precipitates another one: When four hapless Indians come upon the dead family, they discover that a baby has been left alive in the house. Determined to save the child from abandonment but worried they'll be held responsible for the murders, they leave an anonymous note for the sheriff. Their plan backfires, though, and a gang of white men lynches the Indians in a heartbreaking scene that is among the most moving and mysterious in the novel. These dual crimes hang over the town and the nearby reservation for decades, spreading through the population's DNA as relatives of the victims and the perpetrators work together, intermarry and teach each other's children. 'Sorrow was a thing that each of them covered up according to their character,' Erdrich writes. 'Nothing that happens, nothing, is not connected here by blood.' As the town's economy slowly dies, the whites forget the gruesome incident, or pretend to; the Indians bear it like a festering, private wound; and the area's many biracial members worry over its unanswered questions. 'Now that some of us have mixed in the spring of our existence both guilt and victim,' one of them says, 'there is no unraveling the rope.' At the center of all this complication is Evelina Harp, a passionate, endearing young woman, who, like Erdrich, is the daughter of an Indian mother and a white teacher on the reservation. We follow Evelina from grade school to college, through crushes on her dangerous cousin, her gargoyle-like sixth-grade teacher and the writings of Anais Nin. Eve also has an unquenchable appetite for stories, particularly the captivating tales told by her grandfather, Mooshum. Fans of Erdrich's rich chronicle of the Ojibwe will notice with pleasure his resemblance to the old Indian Nanapush from 'Tracks' (1988) and 'Four Souls' (2004), though Mooshum is, ultimately, a more tragic character. His intimate rendition of the murders and subsequent lynching permanently jars Eve's sense of her community. 'I could not look at anyone in quite the same way anymore. I became obsessed with lineage,' she says. 'I traced the blood history of the murders through my classmates and friends until I could draw out elaborate spider webs of lines and intersecting circles.' But that bewildering thicket of consequence and blame eventually wreaks havoc on Eve's mind, forcing her to reconsider just what kind of woman she is. 'When we are young,' she observes wisely, '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.' Following the form Erdrich developed in her first novel, 'Love Medicine'(1984), other narrators take over parts of this book, either shading events Eve understands only vaguely or adding whole new branches to the community's history. Some of these discontinuous episodes — from the arrival of white settlers to the social problems of the 1970s — relate tangentially to each other, but the connections among many parts of the novel are invisible until much later. We hear the story of 19th-century speculators launching out during winter to lay claim on this land, only to end up eating their shoes one frozen night. The tale of a dove infestation in 1896 — which gives the novel its title — reads like a Native American twist on Alfred Hitchcock, the lovely birds accumulating until they become grotesque. And decades later, a bank robbery leads to the bizarre rise of an apocalyptic cult. What marks these stories — some of which appeared in the New Yorker and the Atlantic — is what has always set Erdrich apart and made her novels seem miraculous: the jostling of pathos and comedy, tragedy and slapstick in a peculiar dance. As horrific as the crimes at the heart of this novel are, other sections remind us that Erdrich is a great comic writer. When Mooshum isn't leading Eve through the history of her family, he's daring the local Catholic priest to save him or pursuing alcohol and romance with dogged, hilarious determination. Some of the funniest moments take place during a funeral, and even the murders and lynchings that bleed so much heartache are heightened by incongruous notes of humor. Despite its peculiarities, the remote, tiny town of Pluto begins to seem more and more like a microcosm of America and its troubled past. Judge Antone Coutts, a descendant of one of the original white settlers, notes that 'the entire reservation is rife with conflicting passions. We can't seem to keep our hands off one another, it is true, and every attempt to foil our lusts through laws and religious dictums seems bound instead to excite transgression.' In the end, the hatred and suspicion between Indians and whites are subsumed by their tangled history, the passage of time that bestows its own peculiar peace. Hovering over the entire novel is the image of those voracious doves, covering the ground, blanketing everything, consuming everything in a great fluttering wave of white feathers. 'I am sentenced to keep watch over this small patch of earth,' says one character, who could just as well be speaking for Erdrich herself, 'to judge its miseries and tell its stories. That's who I am.' Sit down and listen carefully. Ron Charles is a senior editor of The Washington Post Book World. He can be reached at charlesr(at symbol)washpost.com." Reviewed by Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"Louise Erdrich's imaginative freedom has reached its zenith — The Plague of Doves is her dazzling masterpiece." Philip Roth
"Mesmerizing.... With both impeccable comic timing and a powerful sense of the tragic, Erdrich continues to illuminate, in highly original style, 'the river of our existence.'" Booklist (starred review)
"One can only marvel...at Erdrich's amazing ability to do what so few of us can — shape words into phrases and sentences of incomparable beauty that, then, pour forth a mesmerizing story." USA Today
"[Erdrich] has written what is arguably her most ambitious — and in many ways, her most deeply affecting — work yet." Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"Erdrich moves seamlessly from grief to sexual ecstasy, from comedy...to tragedy, from richly layered observations of nature and human nature to magical realism. She is less storyteller than medium." Los Angeles Times
"Erdrich writes from a philosophical, cultural, and historical perspective that is rich and deeply rewarding." Boston Globe
"To read Louise Erdrich's thunderous new novel is to leap headlong into the fiery imagination of a master storyteller." Miami Herald
About the Author
Louise Erdrich is the author of thirteen novels, several volumes of poetry, short stories, children's books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel Love Medicine won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Plague of Doves was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She lives in Minnesota and is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore.
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