Friday, January 15, 2010
the plague of doves, by louise erdrich
I first started reading Louise Erdrich when I was in college. Since then, I've read everything she's written - there are not many authors about whom I can make that claim - and each new novel is a pleasure I savor and anticipate. In her many years of writing, she's build an extensive and powerful family tree of interconnected characters, spanning more than a century of stories. Erdrich's approach involves first person narratives by several characters, divided into books within a single novel. It nearly always happens that when I am the most invested in a character, the most knit into their storyline, she switches to a new book and I experience a terrible, anguishing loss and sense of vertigo until I get acclimated to the new voice. And then it happens all over again. She knows best, though, and I'm never disappointed in the complete picture, once I can see it. The Plague of Doves, in the simplest terms, is an unsolved mystery that has affected the lives of the characters for decades. In whole, of course, it's much more than that and the causes and repercussions of the crime are layered and layered until they form the structure of an entire town. Erdrich's language is rich and melodic; I have the same pleasurable trust in her skill that I feel when I read Michael Chabon's work. For example: "...he opens the case and picks up his fiddle. As he tunes it, making such unfamiliar noise, the patients come out of their rooms or are attracted from down the corridor. The nurses venture from their station and stand, arms folded, chewing gum. Their mouths stop moving when he starts playing, and some of the patients sit down, right where they are, a couple of them on the floor, as if the music has cut through the big room like a scythe. After that first run of notes, the music gathers. Corwin plays a slow and pretty tune that makes people's eyes unfocus...they look like they might weep, but that changes quickly as Corwin picks up tempo and plucks out a lively jig that has a sense of humor in the phrasing. At this point, Warren leaves his wall and begins to walk around and around the room, faster and faster. The music ticks along in a jerky way, a Red River jig. Then something monstrous happens. All sounds merge for a moment in the belly of the violin and fill the room with distress. My throat fills. I jump up. Alarm strikes through us. Warren stops walking and backs up flat against the wall. But Corwin draws some note out of the chaos in his hands, and then draws it further up and up, further, until it is unbearable and at that very point where it might become a shriek, the note changes key a fraction and breaks into the most lucid sweetness." I think you should go find out what that's all about.