Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A writer I respect: Louise Erdrich

I have just finished Louise Erdrich's novel The Plague of Doves, and it is marvelous.

There's this wonderful thing that happens whenever I finish a book I really love and enjoy: I look around me and for a split second I am confused because I have lived so fully in the life of the book, in the world that this author created, among its characters and within its setting and time period that I forget where I am.

That's what happened when I turned the last page on Erdrich's novel.

I was first introduced to Louise Erdrich in a college class I took on the postmodern novel. We were assigned Love Medicine, and I found the prose to be tight and intricate and the storytelling to be wonderful. Especially the story "Saint Marie," which I had the pleasure of teaching years later.

August marks the last of the summer months, and if you are wondering what pleasure reading you can take with you on that final vacation, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend The Plague of Doves or any of Erdrich's other fine novels (click here for the list of her writing--she is also a poet and children's book author--the woman is multi-talented and extremely prolific!).

And if you buy one of her books, you are also helping to support one very specific independent bookstore, Birchbark Books located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Portions of the sale of Erdrich's book support this bookstore; here is a brief description of Birchbark Books:

"BirchBark Books and Native Arts is a joint venture of local book lovers, writers, Native American artists, neighborhood artisans, carpenters, and painters. We are an independent bookstore, with all of the accompanying quirks and non-corporate eccentricities. As the malling of America continues, it is our mission to be other."

I love that last clause, "it is our mission to be other." Consider supporting Birchbark Books by supporting Louise Erdrich, it's a nice two-fer, plus if you're like me, you may even experience a moment when one of her books transports you away from your own life--which is an amazing feeling.

[Addendum: I just realized I didn't provide any description or loose plot synopsis of The Plague of Doves, so let me try to sketch out the book's premise without giving too much away. The first thing I want to say is that while the territory is familiar to Erdrich's other novels (Native American reservations in North Dakota, largely Ojibwe and Chippewa and Michif) it does not seem to be part of the sprawling genealogy of the various American Indian families found in Love Medicine, Beet Queen, Tales of Burning Love, etc. The novel does contain within it a very twisted and tangled genealogy largely dominated by a few narrative voices: Evelina Milk and Judge Antone Bazil Coutts (and a few others thrown in) and the central event that animates the various stories within this novel is the turn-of-the-20th century lynching of two men and a boy, and one who survived--all are Native American and the men who lynch them are white immigrant settlers to Pluto, a town that is encapsulated within reservation land. The novel moves back and forth through time and space, through the various descendants of those who were lynched and those who did the hanging. There's much more to the novel then what I just laid out--it's really a magnificent read, but don't take my word for it--find out for yourselves, and check out this book review by The New York Times.]


Earnest said...

Good piece. And thanks for your comments on my blog. The good news, or bad news I suppose, is that the problem we're trying to deal with when it comes to racism, is so big that it takes attacking it from all angles. So whether it is from your angle or mine, or some other, they are all important.

By the way, I get the impression, though I must be wrong in that perception, that you might see this as an either-or situation, to fight the concept of "race" or to battle the problems of racism. I'm guessing you agree that one does not have to choose only one side of that battle because I do assure you I also battle the everyday issues of racism as well.

Thanks again for the discussion. I've been reading more of your posts. It's a great site.

Jennifer said...

Hi Earnest,
I absolutely DO NOT think it's an either-or situation--I agree that racism is such a huge issue that it needs to be addressed through different perspectives and angles.

I do understand why you might think I was advocating for my own particular position and in doing so negating your position.

Perhaps that is part of the problem with trying to have debate/discourse--that we often take a stance as "our position/perspective is best" which leaves the other side feeling as if they are being dismissed/negated.

And I do think that sometimes I do this and oftentimes others take this stance as well.

But truly, I am not trying to do that with our discussion or in your blog (for people reading this, you should check out Earnest's blog, "No More Race" at http://nomorerace.blogspot.com/

I promise to dedicate a post to this kind of discussion in the upcoming week or so--meantime, thanks for your kind words again, Earnest--and thanks for continuing this discussion!