Jennifer (aka EM)'s Reviews > The Plague of Doves

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
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Jun 23, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: for-the-desert-island, idle-no-more
Recommended to Jennifer (aka EM) by: jo
Read from June 13 to 22, 2011

Can I keep giving all the books I read this year four or five stars? Is my judgement becoming less and less credible (assuming it had any credibility in the first place)? May I just say that it's all Goodreads' fault, and the many Goodreaders (you know who you are) who've led me to these authors and books that so precisely fulfill my every literary desire? I'm getting ruthless at picking and choosing among my to-read pile, going only for those I *know* will satisfy me - the responsibility for which must be laid again firmly at the feet of Goodreads and Goodreaders.

So there, if you are getting fewer reviews and these meaningless and unvarying 4- and 5-star ratings from me, you have only yourself to blame. And I am too busy reading 4 and 5-star books to pay much attention or care.


The Plague of Doves reads like a connected set of short stories, which (as I found out in the end notes) is what it started out as. While there was a loose narrative strand woven like a straw through these vignettes - a shocking event in the prologue, unravelled by the final chapter - that is not why you should read this, if you haven't yet.

No, it's for Erdrich's poetic, penetrating, raw insights. They left me breathless. They have both edge and lyricism in them. They are gritty, spare and harsh while also infused with an ethereal, magical reality, e.g.:

"I had expected to feel joy but instead felt a confusion of sorrow, or maybe fear, for it seemed that my life was a hungry story and I its source, and with this kiss I had now begun to deliver myself into the words." (Evelina, p. 20)

and, unexpected and prevalent, a razor-sharp black humour, e.g.:

"Mama said so, and when we fought she shut us up by saying, "Just imagine how you'd feel if something happened." Imagining the other dead helped us enjoy each other's company." (Evelina, p. 28)

The entire exchange between Joseph & Evelina's father and Mooshum, starting with:

"'Is your sister fond of flowers? What is her favorite?'
'Stinging nettles.'
'What were her charming habits when she was young?'
'She could fart the national anthem.'
'She's got her teeth, no? All of them?'
'Except the ones she left in her husbands.'"
(p. 35)

Spirituality is treated with the complexity it deserves, e.g. the incredibly touching scenes between Evelina and Sister Mary Anita, and the way she describes how Shamengwa and Mooshum goad Father Cassidy.

And lines, snippets of dialogue, fleeting imagery that seem tossed off, but are deceptively important. Erdrich, like any poet, is deliberate in her descriptions:

"My uncle Warren, who would stare and stare at you like he was watching your blood move and your food digest." (Marn Wolde, p. 139)

"Looking into my father's eyes you would see the knowledge, tender and offhand, of the ways roots took hold in the earth." (p. 139)

How she deals with madness and sadness - the entire Marn Wolde section, but especially Marn's descriptions of how (and why) she dissociates ("The words are inside and outside of me, hanging in the air like small pottery triangles, broken and curved." p. 145; all of p. 146 - spectacular, haunting imagery).

The music. The violin, how it unites and divides a family; how it cures and kills. "That I must play was more important to me than my father's pain. ... It was a question of survival, after all. If I had not found the music, I would have died of the silence." (Shamengwa, p. 203)

Music and stories; magic and madness; brutality and guilt and, most of all, love:

"Her face, and my father's face, were naked with love. It wasn't something that we talked about - love - and I was terrified of its expression from the lips of my parents. But they allowed me this one clear look at it. Their love blazed from them. And then they left. I think now that everything that was concentrated in that one look--their care in raising me, their patient lessons in every subject they knew to teach, their wincing efforts to give me freedoms, their example of fortitude in work--allowed me to survive myself." (Evelina, p. 222)

The entire Evelina section, from her Anais Nin obsession to her bad poetry to her descent into her own hell and rise out of it, stands alone and shines, shines, shines with pain and longing; growth and survival -- even triumph.

Sometimes, often, Erdrich leads you down a paragraph or chapter and then concludes - wham - with a milestone plot point (someone died; came or left; endured or was destroyed) that has its impact rooted in the surprise of its inevitability.

She doesn't make you feel angry at not seeing it coming -- she just leaves you in awe that she got you there so subtly and cleverly. And then she gifts you with this insight that has about 12 million layers of meaning and resonance with the story, the other characters, and your own life. Because she's a poet, and poetry does that.

I love her.

I'm so glad she's written so many books, and I can savour them in turn without the anxiety of soon running out. Although, these are definitely books that bear and deserve re-reading.
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Reading Progress

06/13 page 36
12.0% "she amazes me. Ok, so I'm only on her second book - but I can already tell that her range is Atwoodian; her voices as authentic as they are varied. I feel at home in her worlds, in ways I can't even really articulate."
04/27 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo what, what a review. fantastic.

i must say that even though i read this some time ago, and even though (like you) i forget everything the moment i finish a book, a lot of scenes from this book are stuck in my mind. the wealth of human experience packed in this book is astounding, isn't it? it's like louise erdrich has lived 7 or 8 lives and she's lovingly narrating them all to us.

what i like most about her books is the invariable, consistent, gentle compassion. even when things get ugly, there is compassion, and, also, a strong bond of faith -- religion, god. a presence, a sense of being guided and held. miracles.

don't expect all her books to be this good. this one, for me, is a veritable, sprawling, soaring masterpiece.

Rashida thanks for this review. It reminded me how much I love this book. I may just go out and buy it, so I can read it whenever I want. (I've long ago made a strict rule that I don't buy books in order to keep myself out of the poorhouse, so it's a really big deal when I buy a book).

Jennifer (aka EM) thank you, jo. Her voices are just amazing - comparing Evelina's to Dr. Cordelia to Judge Bazil Coutts - they are all so distinctive.

Evelina feels most autobiographical, though.

I love the melding and uneasy dynamic she explores between Catholicism and native American spirituality. (I just went back and adjusted my comment on her treatment of spirituality - it deserves even more thought). I love her priests -- although here, her priest was a bumbling fool, and her nun was SO special.

This one will definitely last with me for a while.

Rashida - that's a sensible policy. I wish I could be more disciplined, but books are one of my only vices. Better than smoking, right?

Marty I agree. If a book is not of interest, why read it.

Will Byrnes Wonderful selection of quotes, definitely capturing a sense of what Erdrich is all about

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