Only when Louise Erdrich won this year’s National Book Award for The Round House, did I learn that House is the middle of a planned trilogy that begins with The Plague of Doves which, most serendipitously, was already loaded on my iPod. A bit of real magic, no? [If you, too, should choose the audible route (highly recommended), Plague‘s four multi-generational narrators are resonatingly voiced by Kathleen McInerney and Peter Francis James.]
Plague, a 2009 Pulitzer finalist (Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge won that year), opens with the brutal murder of almost an entire family (a baby survives), is haunted throughout by the “rough justice,” wrongful round-up and hanging of innocent Indian men who are accused of the crime, and closes with the inevitable oncoming death of a troubled small town. But in between such tragedies and endings are the complicated, vibrant, interwoven lives of Pluto’s Native and non-Native communities, whose members repel and attract, nurture and avoid each other, who love, hate, marry, and betray one another.
Evelina Harp – whose family ancestry reaches back to a direct affiliation with Louis Riel, the legendary political and spiritual leader of the Canadian Métis (Native Americans of mixed indigenous Native/First Nations and European heritage) – is the novel’s most youthful voice, who is plagued throughout by impossible love. When she’s not suffering from impassioned self-absorption, Evelina channels the stories of her near-centenarian grandfather, Mooshum; even as his tall tales often prove unreliable, his venerable age makes him the town’s de facto historical harbinger.
What Evelina doesn’t or can’t share is filled in by Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, Evelina’s uncle-by-marriage, whose distinguished demeanor masks an obsessive dead-end love story gone awry; Marn Wolde, the suffering wife of a magnetic evangelical preacher who was once a paid kidnapper; and Doctor Cordelia Lochren, the area’s first female doctor, who retires in her later years as the first and final president of Pluto’s historical society.
Like proverbial puzzle pieces, a recognizable picture forms by story’s end – more specifically, what emerges most clearly is a gnarly family tree with branches both brutally pruned and surprisingly intertwined. That said, not every question gets thoroughly answered … with two-thirds of her trilogy to come, Erdrich still has a lot of explaining to do for her very, very lucky readers. Stay tuned …