The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
Finished: July 7, 2008
First Published: May, 2008
Genre: literary fiction
Reason for Reading: I received an ARC from Harper Collins Canada. Louise Erdrich has been on my list of authors I'd like to read for a while now.
The gun jammed on the last shot and the baby stood holding the crib rail,
eyes wild, bawling.
Comments: This is a book that is very hard to summarize; there are many characters, many plot lines and at times they seem unrelated. It starts in North Dakota in 1911 when a terrible crime is committed on the outskirts of a white town, Pluto, that is on the edge of a Cherokee reservation, both sparsely populated. From that point on the story progresses forward to the present and we see that the whites and the natives intermarry and their descendants are all related to each other through blood, whether directly or once or twice removed.
The narrative is not linear; it jumps back and forth through the decades working its way to the present in the final chapter. Each chapter is narrated in a different voice. We are slowly introduced to the myriad of characters through the eyes of various narrators and we learn of their relationship to each other in an offhand manner many times. While I enjoyed the many voices it did become confusing at times as I would become disoriented and not know who was narrating at times.
There are also no dates given throughout the story nor any political or social events to hang a time period on which could also be confusing to some readers. It did not bother me so much as I felt that the story itself gave me a feel for the time, never exact but I'd feel we were in the 60s/70s or 20s/30s.
The characterization is wonderful, I really got to know and care for these people. The writing is tremendously rich and almost lyrical at times. This is not a fast read, I did find my normal reading speed was slowed down as I read this book which demands to be read slowly and savoured. The final reveal at the end was a brilliant twist I did not see coming.
While the book does deal slightly with race issues (whites, Native Americans and those of mixed-blood), racial tension doesn't figure significantly as a theme. Ultimately this is a saga of a small town (Pluto and the reservation combined) and the relationships of the people, where everyone knows everyone and are likely to be related to them somewhere down the line, and the secrets that are kept for generations until in the end all is revealed. A quiet, beautifully written story about people with dark undertones but also light and humorous at times. Recommended.