The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich


In a haze of gold and brown

I’m not one of those people who “see” numbers or months of the year in colour, but for the first time in reading a book, I was conscious of a clear colour association with the story. The Plague of Doves was tinted throughout in a sort of rich sepia, a sort of brown and gold haze. A bit like cowboys someone I spoke to about this suggested and yes, that’s very much it, except that the focus of the book is more on the Indians, as we still tend to say in the “cowboys and indians” phrase. 

This novel charts the fairly loosely interwoven life stories of several native American people. It is a rich tale, and quite poetic in places. A fellow book club member found the interweaving unconvincing, so googled the book, found out several chapters had been separately published in The New Yorker, and so identified the cause of her dissatisfaction. It is true that it was a bit like Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, another novel my book club read, which was more of an amalgamation of stories with some links. But that did not really bother me. Consecutive story telling is a ploy very often used, these days, and it’s a style I quite enjoy, even though sometimes I do wonder why the beginning-middle-end kind of story seems to be rather out of favour.
My low point in the book was Billy’s snake handler wife, whose name I have forgotten. I didn’t like her or her story. Maybe it’s because I was reading another book at the same time, an autobiographical account, which involved some trailer trash stuff and it sort of interfered with that Billy-and-his-wife episode, which sort of has trailer trash echoes to it.
By far my favourite scene was the closing one, where two now elderly ladies (we have met them both earlier in the book, when they are younger), Cordelia Lochren and Neve Harp, take walks, go over some old stuff, and, gently humorous, decide to close down the Pluto historical society, Pluto being the town which has been the focus of most of the action in the book.
Another chapter, involving a school girl crush on a teacher, also provided a gripping read. Ah, the skill of writers who can make us see and feel what their fictional creations see and feel…

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