The Plague of Doves

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

The structure of Louise Erdrich’s 13th novel, The Plague of Doves, is organic in its complexity—like a tree that branches, buds and leafs out, a tree whose roots tap deep into the earth. Set in the fictional North Dakota town of Pluto, all of the book’s events are somehow connected to the horrific 1911 murder of a white family and its repercussions for the local Indians, a group of whom were wrongly accused and lynched. Moving back and forth from the 19th century to the near-present, telling the tale through the voices of several Pluto residents—white, Indian and mixed—Erdrich is in top form here, creating a self-contained universe that is, save a few false notes toward the end, wholly convincing.

It is a world at once comic and tragic, mundane and surreal. Catholicism and traditional Ojibwa beliefs combine to create an atmosphere in which even something as pedestrian as a stamp collection can be charged with mystical significance. A softball-playing nun, a magical violin, a boy with crosses nailed to the soles of his shoes and, yes, a plague of doves—all are part of a flow of stories that seems unstoppable and as surprising as life itself.

As always in Erdrich’s books, love and lust help drive the action. “Our family has maintained something of a reputation for deathless romantic encounters,” says the young girl Evelina, whose sexual awakening is one of the book’s central dramas. “[M]y brother and I listened to [our grandfather] not only from suspense but for instructions on how to behave when our moment of recognition, or perhaps our romantic trial, should arrive.” That is one way to read this remarkable book—as a reminder to watch for the narrative epiphanies hidden in our own lives.

Erdrich reads Apr 30, 2008.

By Louise Erdrich. Harper, $25.