While You Wait for Louise Erdrich's New Book...

Editors Note: We are big fans of Louise Erdrich and can't wait for her newest book Future Home of the Living God to come out this November. The library has pre-ordered copies, and you can place a hold on this title. In the meantime while you wait, About Books suggests you read Erdrich's earlier book Plague of Doves.

A crying baby in a blood-spattered room quiets when the murderer plays a poignant violin solo on the gramophone while fixing his jammed gun. That scene sets the stage for generations of turmoil as the victims and perpetrators try to forget. Louise Erdrich takes the above horrific scene - where five family members perished and a group of innocent Native Americans were hanged in a measure of “rough justice” – as a vehicle to illustrate the deep tangle of lives where land, heritage and nationalities are all braided together in one misshapen strand.

Stories abound. A husband stages his wife's kidnapping to legitimize a ransom to take care of his lover’s child. An Indian judge secretly courts a white doctor to preserve the visible blood lines. A young college student working in a mental institution stumbles upon her own sexual senses during an encounter with a lesbian patient. Sister Mary Anita Buckendorf has a visage that emulates Godzilla but a wide heart of understanding and can pitch a mean ball in the recess pickup game. Billy Peace returns from Viet Nam and plows his frustrated energies into establishing a cult of spirit-filled devotees whom he molds ever more tightly into his maniacal, sensual mission of power. His wife eventually turns to snake-handling, stroking her bed-time beauties for comfort and finally milking their venom as a ticket to freedom, taking her two young children across the finish line as she imagines Billy’s "spirit crawling slowly toward heaven."

And threading the stories with haunting melody are the dancing, soothing, sobbing, joyous and devastating violins. Shamengwa, a child with an arm disabled by a cow, takes up his father’s violin in secret to deal with his family’s sadness and through the years lightens everyone’s burdens with his exquisite music. Corwin, a schoolyard bully, eventually steals the violin and as punishment Judge Coutts makes him learn to play. Years later, his haunting music strikes a death knell to the murderer in the initial scene.

Some attempt revenge, some atonement. All strive not to snap the taut band of truce. But “every so often something shatters like ice and we are in the river of our existence. We are aware.”

The doves descend early, smothering all - historically, biblically and politically. And to this day, the survivors work out their complicated salvation.

-Lois Glick, Great Falls Library

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