The plague of doves

Louise Erdrich

Large print - 2008

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.

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New York : HarperLuxe c2008.
Main Author
Louise Erdrich (-)
1st HarperLuxe ed., larger print ed
Item Description
"Larger print"--P. [4] of cover.
Physical Description
486 p. (large print) ; 23 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by New York Times Review

YOU can usually count on three things in a Louise Erdrich novel. One: the tale will be told by many characters, each with his or her own chapter or three. Erdrich established this pass-the-talking-stick style in early novels like "Love Medicine" and "The Beet Queen." It's served her well, and she's staying with it Two: although these narrators differ in age, perspective, gender and disposition, they will share an uncannily similar voice, hushed and deeply observant. Erdrich's characters have rich inner lives, expressed in language that's often achingly poetic but can sometimes resemble a John Mayer lyric. ("I was everything the mountain knew") This is Erdrich, take her or leave her. Third: there will be Indians, there will be white folks, and there will be tension between the two. In "The Plague of Doves," Erdrich returns to familiar territory, the stark plains of North Dakota, where the little town of Pluto sits beside rusting railroad tracks, slowly dying. What's killing it? Old grudges, lack of opportunity, long-haul trucking, modernity itself. A civic-wide aversion to ambition doesn't help. "We are a tribe of office workers, bank tellers, book readers and bureaucrats," says Evelina, the quiet part-Ojibwa girl who anchors the novel. Don't let Evelina fool you. Pluto's modest citizens live lives of quiet rectitude punctuated by outbursts of lust and crime, the one often precipitating the other. These folks don't need closets to hold their skeletons, they need storage units. Not that carnal desire and embezzlement - and kidnapping and vigilante murder and sweet-justice murder and death by bee sting - are such bad things, but the people of Pluto wear the history of these acts like heavy overcoats. They can't escape their own past, or their grandfathers' past. No wonder the kids are high-tailing it for the bright lights of Fargo. The tension between Indians and whites in "The Plague of Doves" is both historical and geographical. Pluto is next to the reservation, and some say the town fathers stole tribal land. That's minor, though, compared with the real stain on Pluto's reputation: "In 1911, five members of a family - parents, a teenage girl, and an 8- and a 4-year-old boy - were murdered," one of the narrators recalls. "In the heat of things, a group of men ran down a party of Indians and what occurred was a shameful piece of what was called at the time 'rough justice.'" The lynched Indians' only crime was having the misfortune to discover the murder victims. Since then, the vigilantes and their descendants have done their best to forget the incident. "The town," we are told, "avoids all mention." That's not to say the past is past. The novel opens with Evelina, a sixth grader, managing successive crushes on Corwin Peace, a classmate, and Sister Mary Anita Buckendorf, a teacher. Mention of the Buckendorf name sends Evelina's grandfather, a rascally character named Mooshum, into a soliloquy about a certain historical incident. Mooshum, it turns out, was the only Indian caught but not murdered during the "rough justice" that followed the massacre. And Sister Mary Anita's great-grandfather was a member of the lynching party. Evelina, trying to make sense of it all, draws up a chart: "I traced the blood history of the murders through my classmates and friends until I could draw out elaborate spiderwebs of lines and intersecting circles. I drew in pencil. There were a few people, one of them being Corwin Peace, whose chart was so complicated that I erased parts of it until I wore right through the paper." "The Plague of Doves" unfolds like a novelistic version of Evelina's chart. The action bounces between Evelina; Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, who sees the reservation's dramas march through his courtroom; Marn Wolde, a tough local farm girl; and a final narrator whose name is too much of a plot spoiler to reveal. The question of who really murdered that farm family adds suspense to the plot, but deeper, more satisfying discoveries arrive with the slow unspooling of the community's bloodlines, with their rich and complex romantic entanglements. "The entire reservation is rife with conflicting passions," Judge Coutts observes. "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." Coutts, a rational man carrying on an irrational affair with a married woman, looks to philosophers like Marcus Aurelius for answers. "The only problem with those old philosophers," he finds, "was that they didn't give enough due to the unbearable weight of human sexual love." One of the risks of Erdrich's multiple-narrator structure is that sometimes a narrator comes along who blows the rest of them off the page - and makes a reader wonder why on earth we'd ever return to those bores. Marn Wolde's story, which chronicles the rise and fall of Billy Peace (young Corwin's uncle), a charismatic cult leader, is a tour de force of sly comedy. As Billy's wife, Marn finds herself trapped on his Branch Davidian-style compound with hilariously commonplace concerns about her bright young daughter, Lilith. "I thought she was terribly intelligent," Marn says, "but there was no outside testing." When Marn exited the novel, I felt like calling after her, "For the love of God, don't leave now!" In "A Plague of Doves," Erdrich has created an often gorgeous, sometimes maddeningly opaque portrait of a community strangled by its own history. Pluto is one of those places we read about now and then when big-city papers run features about the death of small-town America. When you grow up in such a place, people know that your mother was a wild child back in high school. They know why your uncle talks to himself in the grocery store. What Erdrich knows is that this history, built up over generations, yields a kind of claustrophobia that has only one cure: Leave. Bruce Barcott's most recent book is "The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw: One Woman's Fight to Save the World's Most Beautiful Bird." What's killing this North Dakota town? Old grudges, lack of opportunity, long-haul trucking, modernity itself.

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [October 27, 2009]
Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Every so often something shatters like ice and we are in the river of our existence. We are aware. Those are the moments Erdrich captures in this mesmerizing novel set in Pluto, North Dakota, a white town on the edge of an Ojibwe reservation. Founded out of white greed, the town is now dying, deserted by both industry and its young people. Evelina, a girl of mixed Indian and white descent, hears many family stories from her irascible grandfather, Mooshum, who has learned to deal with the deep sorrow in his life by practicing the patient art of ridicule (his sly baiting of the local priest is one of many comic highlights). Evelina also learns about the town's long, bloody history, including the slaughter of a white farm family and the hanging of innocent Native Americans unfairly targeted as the perpetrators of the crime. Over succeeding generations, descendants of both the victims and the lynching party intermarry, creating a tangled history. Throughout Erdrich deploys potent, recurring images a dance performed to thwart the plague of doves destroying crops, the heartbreaking music of a violin, an athletic nun rounding the bases in her flowing habit to communicate the complexity and the mystery of human relationships. 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. --Wilkinson, Joanne Copyright 2008 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

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. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Violence in a North Dakota town near an Ojibwe reservation resonates through the generations. With a U.S./Canadian tour; reading group guide. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

The latest Erdrich novel (The Painted Drum, 2005, etc.) about the Ojibwes and the whites they live among in North Dakota spirals around a terrible multiple murder that reverberates down through generations of a community. In the 1960s, Evelina Harp's Ojibwe grandfather, Mooshum, tells mesmerizing stories of his past. Having found a murdered family and saved the surviving baby, Mooshum and three Ojibwe friends were blamed for the killings and lynched by a mob of local whites in 1911. For reasons not immediately apparent, Mooshum was spared at the last moment, but his friends died. Evelina's first boyfriend is Corwin Peace, whose ancestor was one of those lynched. Her favorite teacher, a nun, descends from one of the mob leaders. And Evelina's middle-class parents of mixed heritage straddle the two cultures. Aunt Neve Harp sent her banker husband, who is Corwin's father, to prison after he arranged Neve's kidnapping by Corwin's then teenage uncle Billy in a phony ransom subplot (a little reminiscent of the movie Fargo). Spiritual Billy evolves into the tyrannical leader of a religious cult until his wife Marn Wolde, the daughter of farmers whose land he's taken over, kills him to save her children. While in college Evelina ends up briefly in a mental hospital where she gets to know Marn's lunatic uncle Warren. Corwin, under the positive influence of Judge Coutts and his new wife, Evelina's Aunt Geraldine, becomes a musician playing the same violin that once belonged to his ancestors. Judge Coutts's previous lover Cordelia, an older woman and a doctor who won't treat Indians, was once saved by Mooshum and his friends. Guilt and redemption pepper these self-sufficient, intertwining stories, and readers who can keep track of the characters will find their efforts rewarded. The magic lies in the details of Erdrich's ever-replenishing mythology, whether of a lost stamp collection or a boy's salvation. A lush, multilayered book. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

The Plague of Doves LP A Novel Chapter One The Plague of Doves In the year 1896, my great-uncle, one of the first Catholic priests of aboriginal blood, put the call out to his parishioners that they should gather at Saint Joseph's wearing scapulars and holding missals. From that place they would proceed to walk the fields in a long, sweeping row, and with each step loudly pray away the doves. His human flock had taken up the plow and farmed among German and Norwegian settlers. Those people, unlike the French who mingled with my ancestors, took little interest in the women native to the land and did not intermarry. In fact, the Norwegians disregarded everybody but themselves and were quite clannish. But the doves ate their crops the same. When the birds descended, both Indians and whites set up great bonfires and tried driving them into nets. The doves ate the wheat seedlings and the rye and started on the corn. They ate the sprouts of new flowers and the buds of apples and the tough leaves of oak trees and even last year's chaff. The doves were plump, and delicious smoked, but one could wring the necks of hundreds or thousands and effect no visible diminishment of their number. The pole-and-mud houses of the mixed-bloods and the bark huts of the blanket Indians were crushed by the weight of the birds. They were roasted, burnt, baked up in pies, stewed, salted down in barrels, or clubbed dead with sticks and left to rot. But the dead only fed the living and each morning when the people woke it was to the scraping and beating of wings, the murmurous susurration, the awful cooing babble, and the sight, to those who still possessed intact windows, of the curious and gentle faces of those creatures. My great-uncle had hastily constructed crisscrossed racks of sticks to protect the glass in what, with grand intent, was called the rectory. In a corner of that one-room cabin, his younger brother, whom he had saved from a life of excessive freedom, slept on a pallet of fir boughs and a mattress stuffed with grass. This was the softest bed he'd ever lain in and the boy did not want to leave it, but my great-uncle thrust choirboy vestments at him and told him to polish up the candelabra that he would bear in the procession. This boy was to become my mother's father, my Mooshum. Seraph Milk was his given name, and since he lived to be over one hundred, I was present and about eleven years old during the time he told and retold the story of the most momentous day of his life, which began with this attempt to vanquish the plague of doves. He sat on a hard chair, between our first television and the small alcove of bookshelves set into the wall of our government-owned house on the Bureau of Indian Affairs reservation tract. Mooshum would tell us he could hear the scratching of the doves' feet as they climbed all over the screens of sticks that his brother had made. He dreaded the trip to the out-house, where many of the birds had gotten mired in the filth beneath the hole and set up a screeching clamor of despair that drew their kind to throw themselves against the hut in rescue attempts. Yet he did not dare relieve himself anywhere else. So through flurries of wings, shuffling so as not to step on their feet or backs, he made his way to the out-house and completed his necessary actions with his eyes shut. Leaving, he tied the door closed so that no other doves would be trapped. The out-house drama, always the first in the momentous day, was filled with the sort of detail that my brother and I found interesting. The out-house, well-known to us although we now had plumbing, and the horror of the birds' death by excrement, as well as other features of the story's beginning, gripped our attention. Mooshum was our favorite indoor entertainment, next to the television. But our father had removed the television's knobs and hidden them. Although we made constant efforts, we never found the knobs and came to believe that he carried them upon his person at all times. So we listened to our Mooshum instead. While he talked, we sat on kitchen chairs and twisted our hair. Our mother had given him a red coffee can for spitting snoose. He wore soft, worn, green Sears work clothes, a pair of battered brown lace-up boots, and a twill cap, even in the house. His eyes shone from slits cut deep into his face. The upper half of his left ear was missing, giving him a lopsided look. He was hunched and dried out, with random wisps of white hair down his ears and neck. From time to time, as he spoke, we glimpsed the murky scraggle of his teeth. Still, such was his conviction in the telling of this story that it wasn't hard at all to imagine him at twelve. His big brother put on his vestments, the best he had, hand-me-downs from a Minneapolis parish. As real incense was impossible to obtain, he prepared the censer by stuffing it with dry sage rolled up in balls. There was an iron hand pump and a sink in the cabin, and Mooshum's brother, or half brother, Father Severine Milk, wet a comb and slicked back his hair and then his little brother's hair. The church was a large cabin just across the yard, and wagons had been pulling up for the last hour or so. Now the people were in the church and the yard was full of the parked wagons, each with a dog or two tied in the box to keep the birds and their droppings off the piled hay where people would sit. The constant movement of the birds made some of the horses skittish. Many wore blinders and were further . . . The Plague of Doves LP A Novel . Copyright © by Louise Erdrich. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.