The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich

(Book 126) As I mentioned in my last post, I had hoped and hoped to host this meeting in my back yard with the addition of a fire pit or two, but when the weather forecast added rain to the equation, I gave up the dream. Too much had been planned to give up on the meal completely, and so it was that on Tuesday, October 20, I delivered meals on wheels to eight club members. Marcia was kind enough to take delivery for and additional two meals for Rosalie and Karen. They were delivered on metal compartmental trays stolen from the North Dakota State mental hospital and included:

a bee motif napkin and plastic cutlery from the 4-B’s cafe and a honey stick made by the bees in Judge Antone Coutts back wall,

a Cornish hen (half) standing in for the doves that “were roasted, baked up in pies, stewed, salted down in barrels… “

a container of salsa pinto beans from the bag of contraband pinto beans that Mooshum and Junesse lived on for a summer,

mashed turnips from the state mental hospital dining room,

frybread from the six-kinds-of-frybread supper in the Knights of Columbus hall after Shamengwa’s burial,

wine homemade by a congregation member for Billy Peace served in a mason jar,

and for dessert, a slice of white on white cake from the wedding of the Judge and Geraldine (which may have been Pepperidge Farm Coconut cake which tested my dietary willpower like few things have lately.)

Later that evening, we met via Zoom. Rosalie was able to join us even though she recently tested positive for COVID. Luckily she has not been sick and we are all happy for that favor in this year of few favors. We started by talking about the complex family tree found in this novel and offered our favorite character. Most early replies, (the ones I heard) were for Mooshum, closely followed by Schemengwa and the funeral sermon/eulogy was noted as a high point. I noted that having grown up with a mother who is a twin, the relationship between Mooshum and Schemengwa was reminiscent of the natural repartee between my mother and aunt. Susan noted that she was very impressed with Erdrich’s descriptions and beautiful prose.

As for the structure of the book, Linda commented that there seemed to be a rush to the finish, to tie up the loose ends, some of which she didn’t know were there. She also wondered why it was necessary for Coutts to refer to his married lover as just “C.” Marcia commented on characters who were introduced and not followed to a conclusion and I think it was Chris who suggested that because this book is the first of a trilogy, that those characters may continue into the next book.

Susan complimented the mashed turnips and we diverged from the book into a discussion of root vegetables and impromptu root cellars. Geri invited herself over (not sure where) for a root vegetable roast and offered professional knowledge that the root cellar would have to be below 42″ to be below the Chicago frost line. The conversation naturally flowed from root cellars to canning. Chris noted that she canned tomatoes; Rosalie reminisced about her mom’s big crocks for pickles; and Linda expressed a basic fear of canning and the concomitant botulism. The final turn in this subject sojourn was the upswing in the purchase of freezers for the next phase of the pandemic. We considered purchasing a freezer as a group, but not to any conclusion.

I mentioned some of the moments that I particularly appreciated in the book and I’ll add my Goodreads review here:

There is so much to unpack in this novel, but let’s just say first that the writing is exquisite — is that the word I want to use? Yes, I think so. In Evelina’s first chapter there are many quick and clever turns of phrase:
“In a corner of that one-room cabin, his younger brother, who he had saved from a life of excessive freedom slept on a pallet of fir boughs and a mattress stuffed with grass.”
(referring to Mooshum’s first look at a woman’s lower limbs) “Instantly, he was struck on the forehead by a bird hurtled from the sky with such force that it seemed to have been flung directly by God’s hand to smite and blind him before he carried his sin of appreciation any farther.”
“But if there was embellishment, it only had to do with facts.”

Then the chapter concludes with this lovely passage:
“The air was filled with falling down and the ditch grass and gutters were plump with a snow of light. I had expected to feel joy but instead felt a confusion of sorrow, or maybe fear, for it seemed that my life was a hungry story and I its source, and with this kiss I had now begun to deliver myself into the words.”

Though the story of The Expedition had me a bit bogged down, the rest more than made up for it. I’ll just talk about two of my favorite moments. One is when Judge Antone Bazil Coutts reflects on the violin finding its way from Henri and Lafayette Peace to Corwin Peace via Shamengwa:
“For what stuck in my mind, what woke me in the middle of the night, after the fact of reading it, was the date on the letter: 1888 was the year. But the violin spoke to Shamengwa and called him out onto the lake in a dream almost twenty years later. ‘How about that?’ I said to Geraldine. ‘Can you explain such a thing?’ Then she looked at me steadily. ‘We know nothing’ is what she said.”
Short and sweet sagacity.

The second one was a moment that hit me in the heart because I’d experienced a similar moment when I went off to school:
“I do not remember our final embraces, but I watched my mother and father as they stood beside the car. They waved to me and that moment is a clear, still picture. I can call it up as if it was a photograph. My father, so thin and athletic, looked almost frail with shock, while my mother, whose beauty was still remarkable and who was known on the reservation for her silence and reserve, had left off her characteristic gravity. Her face, and my father’s face, were naked with love. It wasn’t something that we talked about — love — and I was terrified of its expression from the lips of my parents. But they allowed me this one clear look at it. Their love blazed from them. And then they left. I think now that everything that was concentrated in that one look — their care in raising me, their patient lessons in every subject they knew to teach, their wincing efforts to give me freedoms, their example of fortitude in work — allowed me to survive myself.”

There was so much more, but don’t even get me started on the paragraphs about the grave digging, or I’ll never get to bed tonight.

Back at the meeting, Mary was given the award for the most dramatic lighting, and Sharon received the nod for appearing the coziest. We discussed our Christmas Cookie Exchange Extravaganza and it was suggested we could still do a quick one if we were to divide all the cookies beforehand (as some of the girls have always done) and do a quick outdoor or in an open garage toast and exchange. Geri is considering how much to remodel her garage to reclaim her Christmas hostess title, but we can’t forget that Susan was originally scheduled to host Christmas and has the paper placemats and napkins!

Along with the meals on wheels delivery, the girls were also given the reading list for next year, because I couldn’t wait or count on a Christmas get-together. The conveyance for 2021 reading list is a scrapbook of Family that I will describe fully in another post. We will be on Zoom again on November 19, to discuss The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.