The Plague of Doves
by Louise Erdrich
The Plague of Doves is Louise Erdrich’s thirteenth novel. I’ll admit, I had not even heard of her before chancing upon this book, but she is known as an author of Native American history. Doves is a story that revolves around quite a few people, with the protagonist being Evelina Harp. Evelina begins the story during her childhood, when she learns from her grandfather, Mooshum, about decades earlier when he and three peers were unjustly accused of murdering a family, solely based on the fact that they were Native American. Mooshum is the only one of the four that was not hanged. The story then begins switching from narrator to narrator, with Evelina narrating other parts of the book. While Doves is a tragic tale for all those involved, there is a sense of hope and peace that is involved as well. Even in Evelina’s case, as she transforms from a spunky, quizzical girl to a sullen teenager.
Erdrich also had a great way of injecting small bouts of humor into a very serious book. For instance, one of the most humerous parts of the book, during which I was practically laughing out loud, is during the funeral of Mooshum’s brother, when the minister presiding over the funeral proceedings believes that it is actually Mooshum who has died. Mooshum, meanwhile, is sitting in the church listening to his own eulogy while the minister unknowingly rambles on. I appreciated that Erdrich was able to draw laughter from such a tragic book.
Doves also spends much time delving into the relationship between the Native Americans and the whites. Considering the lynching of three innocent men that took place, it becomes apparent from the beginning of the book that the issue of racial divides plays a large hand. One of the narrators, Judge Antone Coutts, seems to have the most level head of the bunch, seeing as he’s had a lot of time to reflect on past experiences, not to mention that, being a judge, he has more of an insight into the crimes committed (both the slaughtered family as well as other crimes) over the years. At one point, Coutts says “the entire reservation is rife with conflicting passions. We can’t seem to keep our hands off one another, it is true, and every attempt to foil our lusts through laws and religious dictums seems bound instead to excite transgression.” These lines exemplify the struggle going on throughout the book, which eventually leads to a desolate, empty town.
I came away from this book trying to piece together what I had read. While this is an amazing book, it does have the issue of being disjointed. While a lot of times, this is used as a literary tool, Doves didn’t master it in the way I had hoped for. I had a difficult time connecting the characters and remembering who was who. Every time I opened the book, I had a hard time recalling what I had previously read and tying it into the story as a whole. It was interesting in the sense that I was never too excited to open the book, but once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. I read afterwards that the reason for the separation between the portions of the book is because it originally was not published as a book. Instead, each part of the book was published separately as a short story. Had I known that when I began reading, I would have had a different point of view throughout, I think, and would have had an easier time connecting each portion.
Regardless of the aforementioned flaw, there is a reason this book was a runner up for the Pulitzer this year. The storyline and prose are both enthralling and definitely worth reading.