The Plague of Doves

The Plague of Doves

2008

"The Plague of Doves" recounts the lives, misfortunes, and choices of the citizens of Pluto, North Dakota, all revolving around an old, unsolved murder. The reader should also note in advance that the structure of the novel recounts events, b...

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Fiction

320 Pages
4

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"The Plague of Doves" recounts the lives, misfortunes, and choices of the citizens of Pluto, North Dakota, all revolving around an old, unsolved murder. The reader should also note in advance that the structure of the novel recounts events, both past and present, as if they were occurring simultaneously.

The Plague of Doves is a 2008 New York Times bestseller and the first entry in a loosely-connected trilogy by Ojibwe author Louise Erdrich. The Plague of Doves follows the townsfolk of Pluto, North Dakota, who are plagued by a farming family's unsolved murder from generations prior. The novel incorporates Erdrich's multiple narrator trope that is present in other works including the Love Medicine series. Its sequel is the National Book Award winning novel The Round House. Erdrich concludes the "Justice" trilogy with "La Rose" in 2016.

Louise Erdrich (born Karen Louise Erdrich, June 7, 1954) is an American author, writer of novels, poetry, and children's books featuring Native American characters and settings. She is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, a federally recognized tribe of the Anishinaabe (also known as Ojibwe and Chippewa).

 

Erdrich is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant writers of the second wave of the Native American Renaissance. In 2009, her novel The Plague of Doves was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and received an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award. In November 2012, she received the National Book Award for Fiction for her novel The Round House. She was awarded the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction at the National Book Festival in September 2015. She was married to author Michael Dorris and the two collaborated on a number of works. The couple separated in 1995.

 

She is also the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis that focuses on Native American literature and the Native community in the Twin Cities.

Awards

 

    1975 American Academy of Poets Prize

    1983 Pushcart Prize in Poetry

    1984 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, for Love Medicine

    1984 Sue Kaufman Prize for Best First Novel, for Love Medicine

    1984 Virginia McCormick Scully Literary Award d for Best Book of 1984 dealing with Indians or Chicanos

    1985 Los Angeles Times book Prize

    1985 Guggenheim Fellowship in Creative Arts

    1987 O. Henry Award, for the short story "Fleur" (published in Esquire, August 1986)

    1999 World Fantasy Award, for The Antelope Wife

    2000 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas

    2005 Associate Poet Laureate of North Dakota

    2006 Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, for the children's book "The Game of Silence"

    2007 Honorary Doctorate from the University of North Dakota; refused by Erdrich because of her opposition to the university's North Dakota Fighting Sioux mascot

    2009 Honorary Doctorate (Doctor of Letters) from Dartmouth College

    2009 Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement

    2009 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, for Plague of Doves

    2012 National Book Award for Fiction for The Round House

    2013 Rough Rider Award

    2014 Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award

    2014 PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction

    2015 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction

    2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, for LaRose

Background

The central plot for The Plague of Doves revolves around an act of racism that took place in the early

 20th century. Peter G. Beidler outlines how Louise Erdrich's plot for the novel was influenced by real-life events that happened in North Dakota in the late 1890s. As he explains, a white family, the Spicers, were murdered by a group of Native Americans. While the murderers were tried and sentenced to death for their crimes, the citizens of the town believed the three witnesses, also Native Americans, were guilty as well.Nine months after the trial, the citizens stormed the jailhouse where the men were being held, overpowered the guards, and proceeded to hang the three men in question.One of the men was a 19-year-old boy named Paul Holy Track, believed to be the direct influence for Erdrich's character, the thirteen-year-old Holy Track.

Review:

 

theguardian.com

Lara Feigel

Louise Erdrich's North Dakota has the hallucinogenic domesticity of Stanley Spencer's Cookham. In her 12 novels, she has returned again and again to the beloved and familiar landscape she grew up in, and the Native American reservation is lit up by her fevered imagination. This is a land where God and a liver-eating cannibal wrangle over the bodies of their prey and where young lovers melt into walls of doves.

 

The raucous and apocalyptic plague of birds of the title provides the background to Erdrich's bizarre and beautiful story. As the Catholics frighten away the doves with Hail Marys, the lovers Mooshum and Junesse come together in a meeting that later furnishes their granddaughter Evelina with proof that 'our family has maintained something of an historical reputation for deathless romantic encounters'.

 

Evelina's is the first voice we hear in a novel that is told through a Faulknerian motet. A modern young woman who reads Camus in French, she is none the less brought up on the fairy tales of her Native American ancestors. Her narrative begins with an account of her puberty in which the teenage blends with the mythical. We watch her hiding in shame at the jibes occasioned by the new braces on her teeth before lying in the bath bringing herself to accidental orgasm as she inscribes her beloved's name on her body with her finger a million times.

 

This is a book that never lets us forget the sinewy, often tortuous rhythms of a culture that lives through words, passing on talismanic tales across the generations. At its heart is the dark story of the 1911 murder of a white family and the racist lynching of a group of Native American scapegoats, including Mooshum, whose escape from death troubles the consciences of his offspring. Erdrich weaves the politics of the encounter into a story that we come to understand layer by layer, with Evelina's own tale told in conjunction with the descendants of the lynchers and with the now elderly surviving baby of the murdered white family.

The multiple narrators emerge as tightly intertwined in both past and present. Cordelia, the surviving baby, has had a lifelong affair with the Judge, who is married to Evelina's aunt Geraldine and is herself now the constant companion of Evelina's great aunt Neve, whose husband John Wildstrand illegitimately fathered Corrin Pearce, whose name Evelina scrawls across her body. Luckily, the characters themselves are aware of their ludicrous emotional interbreeding and the Judge voices our thoughts when he admits that 'the entire reservation is rife with conflicting passions. We can't seem to keep our hands off one another'.

 

We are helped along by the book's quirky humour that comes through cameo characters who are too singular to be caricatures. A fine example is Billy Pearce, Corrin's uncle. Billy metamorphoses from an unwilling teenage gangster to a powerful stud who founds a new church and combines the might of God with the prowess of his untiring sexual energy. As he gains in power, he also gains in weight and for his young wife sex becomes a dangerous undertaking as she is tossed from side to side on top of her whale-like mate. She solves the problem by making him wear a sleeveless undershirt so that she can hold on to the shoulder straps like handles.

 

The detail of the shoulder straps is typical of a poetic vision that is as precise as it is surreal. This is not magic realism; it is so grounded in the detail of the everyday that we are barely aware that Erdrich is tugging at the seams of the realistically possible. The Plague of Doves confirms her reputation as a writer able to combine the apocalyptic with the mundane in a world whose inhabitants are set loose to roam the heavens in spirit but are ballasted always by their defiantly human bodies.

 

 

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