Enjoyed the discussion of the Houston Central Market Book Club last night, August 8th, 2011. Alice M. lead eighteen attendees in a discussion of THE PLAGUE OF DOVES by Louise Erdrich. It is the story of a small community of Indians, Whites and mixed bloods who are tangled up in an unsolved murder in the early 20th century in North Dakota. It was fiction except for a couple of characters named Louis Riel and Holy Track.
Alice began with biographical information of the author and then proceeded to ask numerous open-ended questions of the group as the moderator is supposed to do. Most of us (except one) had never heard of the author. But all were impressed with the amazingly beautiful writing and the characterizations. The characters who grew up during the course of the story were particularly endearing - many in our group shared how they could relate to the innocence and also deviousness of Evelina, Joseph and Corwin as they navigated with difficulty through their childhood in a community where secrets and clannishness and bigotry were prevalent.
Also, appreciated by everyone was the humor portrayed by characters such as Mooshum, Evelina's grandfather who enjoyed irritating Father Cassidy, the Catholic priest who continued to promote regular Sunday mass attendance despite an unwilling audience.
The book also included more serious aspects such as abhorrent behavior by the leader of a religious cult who abused his wife and children. Also serious was the juvenile delinquency of a young man who is nearly imprisoned for robbery until Judge Coutts uses creativity in passing punishment requiring that the young man learn to play the violin from the old man, Shamengwa (brother of Mooshum). We all learned that the musical skill that developed so beautifully was a gift that the young man inherited from his forebears and which he almost missed the opportunity to develop had it not been for the wise Judge.
Evelina early in the story as she narrates the first part describes "romantic trials" that she learns about when she "listened to Mooshum not only from suspense but for instructions on how to behave when our moment of recognition or perhaps our romantic trial should arrive." After thinking about the story during and after the discussion, I've come to the conclusion that this statement summarizes the book best. I've become convinced that the fragmented nature of the stories are not fragmented if you consider it to be organized around "romantic trials" or pairs - such as Mooshum and Neve, Aunt Geraldine and Judge Coutts, Cordelia and Judge Coutts, Evelina and Corwin, Mooshum and Junesse, Marn and Billy, John Wildstrand and Maggie, John Wildstrand and Neve, Neve and Billy, Evelina and Nonette, Evelina and Sister Godzilla, etc. etc. - lots and lots more, too many to include here even if I remembered them all without looking back at the text.
But as we went around the room giving everyone a chance to give their final general opinion or mention something they hadn't had a chance to mention earlier, there was a majority who said that the quality of the writing was what they liked best about the book. Though it was definitely fragmented as many mentioned, the skill of the author linking all the characters together relating them to one incident in the past, the unsolved murder, was phenomenal. Definitely a great book in my opinion, one that if read again, I'm sure I would gain even more insight and pleasure.
Looking forward to next months discussion of ONE AMAZING THING by Chitra Divakaruni on September 12th by our Houston Central Market Book Club
FYI - Our September book was chosen as part of an annual Houston city-wide initiative to promote the reading of one book by everyone in the city. There will be other discussions around the city also. Check their website at http://www.gulfcoastreads.org/ for more details.