So what’s Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves about? Love. Ahh, that sounds really warm and cozy. It is – until it isn’t. This novel is no Hallmark card or cheesy pop song. Its major theme is love in its many forms (splendored or not): young love, mature love, obsessive love, self-love (our favorite), destructive love (which may not be love at all), forbidden love (sweet!), and familial love (whatever).
The novel is primarily set in North Dakota’s Badlands (major metaphor alert) on and near an Ojibwe reservation. However, it opens with the murder of a White family on a farm. The sole survivor is a baby in a crib (the murderer finds her when she starts crying). So now he has a decision to make.
The story then jumps ahead decades to the 1960s. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that shortly after the murders 4 Native Americans came across the scene. When several White men learn about the Native Americans’ presence at the farmhouse, they deputize themselves and (not being too concerned about guilt or innocence) lynch the 4 Native Americans. The murders and the subsequent lynchings permeate the community as if an icy phantom walks through it, even as the descendants from all sides interact and mix. There is no way to “unravel” the rope. “Nothing that happens, nothing, is not connected here by blood.”
The novel is narrated by 4 characters and follows several inter-related families for about 40 years. The proximity of the White and Native communities may breed trouble, but it also creates desire. “We can’t seem to keep our hands off one another, it is true, and every attempt to foil our lusts though laws and religious dictums seems bound instead to excite transgression.” This is not new. But Ms. Erdrich is a skilled writer, and her wonderfully-drawn characters keep the story interesting and the reader engaged. Ultimately, we learn what happened to the baby and who murdered the family. There is a resolution of sorts. But, still, questions linger.
While the murders and lynchings are ever present, this story is about finding, maintaining, and losing love – even the most fulfilled are not exempt. “I have loved intensely. I have lived an ordinary and a satisfying life, and I have been privileged to be of service to people. Most people. There is no one I mourn to the point of madness and nothing I would really do over again.” That sounds like a full life, but Ms. Erdrich is too honest to leave it at that. Fulfilled or not, questions still linger.
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor.