Louise Erdrich's new novel, The Plague of Doves, is a brilliant examination of the generational effects tragedy and misunderstanding have on a small community.
Using several separate narrators with multiple ethnic backgrounds to explain events over three generations, Erdrich presents a multifaceted look at how prejudice and vengeance can plague everyone touched by these powerful, hurtful emotions, regardless of whether the individual recognizes the consequences in his or her own life.
The novel is set in the small predominantly white town of Pluto, North Dakota. The nearby Ojibwe reservation offers an array of complimentary characters to those in Pluto. The murder of a white farming family in 1911 sparks a night of violence between some of the men who reside in Pluto and four Ojibwe men who had the unfortunate luck to stumble upon the slain family. It is the descendants of these two groups of men who must live with the social and moral repercussions of this one night.
As time passes, the line between the white and Ojibwe communities begins to blur as residents from the two communities come together, intermarry and others move away. Members of each community who remember the division between the two groups grow older while the younger generations move past their racial differences and start to form a new community that is mostly unaware of the horrifying history between the two.
The reader is introduced to three main narrators: Evelina Harp, the granddaughter of one of the Ojibwe men suspected in the 1911 murders, Marn Wolde, a woman whose overbearing, zealot husband pushes her far away from her own religious heritage and toward that of the Ojibwes', and Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, a man whose own mixed background prevents him from ever completely obtaining the affections of his first love.
Each narrator reveals pieces of these individuals' collective history. Through their analysis of the past, the reader places each piece of the puzzle within its frame. Erdrich sculpts her story extremely carefully making sure that nothing is given away. The reader must gather all these pieces of the story until the very end of the novel at which point the whole puzzle is revealed.
Each character holds their own fragmented picture of the past, never fully knowing how the events of one night long before they existed have shaped their lives and the future of this community.
It is this fragmented look at history that shows how misunderstanding and assumptions poison not only the culture of the current generation, but also that of every one that follows. The novel functions as a historical document for the town of Pluto, shedding light on events left in the dark past of the town.
Much like her previous novels, such as The Painted Drum and Love Medicine, Erdrich's inclusion of Native American history within The Plague of Doves adds depth to her narrative. Her extensive knowledge of tribal culture is tenderly demonstrated in her writing. Her characters are often amalgams of two worlds, showing the multiplicity of every person. Her narrators are very compelling and one cannot help but become fully invested in their story and wonder what will become of them long after the novel had ended.
Erdrich's lyrical style compels the reader to keep moving through the narrative. Her prose is perfectly timed within the novel, rendering itself on the page in such a way that mimics the current state of the book. Her writing demonstrates that feeling one has when days move slowly and when events in life move so quickly one can barely keep the pace thus moving the reader through the story at varying speeds.
The Plague of Doves is a beautifully crafted, compelling story. Fans of Erdrich's work will not be disappointed by her latest efforts, nor will those who have not read her previously.
Theresa Studnicky has a Masters in English and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book reviews will appear regularly in the News Enterprise.