Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Plague of Doves, by Louise Erdrich

The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor named Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves a best book of the year. Narrated by several individuals, her novel spans the history of Pluto, North Dakota and an adjacent Ojibwe reservation. Evelina, a young half-Ojibwe girl, listens to the tales from her grandfather Mooshum. We also hear from Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, who falls in love with Evelina’s aunt, and follow his ancestor and namesake in Pluto’s early existence. Histories intertwine, and the present repeats and contradicts the past.

The Plague of Doves resembles a short story collection, though its chapters are more interconnected and less complete than short stories. Erdrich lovingly details the mannerisms of individuals and wide-sky thunderstorms, but the use of multiple speakers can distance and confuse the reader. Still, moments of brilliance and humor emerge in situations dramatic and mundane. The delightful but flawed Mooshum is a poignant creation. Holy Track is a haunting but underdeveloped figure. One dazzling section is told by the mentally ill Marn Wolde. She is married to the fascinating Billy, a Messianic (or satanic) figure of terrible charisma.

Unfortunately, Marn Wolde’s wild commentary suffers from a lack of clarity, as does almost every segment. Dramatic events affect characters too little or too much, distracting from what is actually unfolding. Stereotypical characters like the heartless, self-righteous Father Cassidy also detract from the story’s power.

Starvation, murders, lynchings, kidnappings, and romances connect in fated coincidences. However, a lack of realism and narrative drive muddies beautiful imagery. Thus the supposed final punch is more hollow than gut wrenching.

No comments:

Post a Comment