Publisher/Year: Harper Perennial, 2009
How I Got This: As a Christmas present
Why I Read It: I think Louise Erdrich is an amazing, yet underappreciated author
Rating: 4 Stars
A beautiful, compelling, utterly original new novel from one of the most important American writers of our time. Pluto, North Dakota, is a town on the verge of extinction. Its unsavory origins -- which lie in white greed -- contain the seeds of its demise. Here, everybody is connected -- by love or friendship, by blood, and, most importantly, by the burden of a shared history. Evelina Harp, a witty, ambitious young girl, part Ojibwe, part white, is growing up on the reservation. She is prone to falling hopelessly in love, most notably with her cousin, Corwin Peace, a misfit with a late-discovered talent for music, and then with her teacher, Sister Maria Anita Buckendorf, a godzilla-like nun whose frank acceptance of herself is irresistible. Mooshum, Evelina's grandfather, is a seductive storyteller, a repository of family and tribal history; listening enraptured to his tales Evelina learns of a horrific crime that has marked both Ojibwe and whites, whose fates have been inextricably bound ever since.Nobody understands the weight of that crime better than Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, a half breed from Pluto, who also suffers from pains in the love department; as a judge on the reservation, he keeps watch over its inhabitants and recounts their lives with compassion and rare insight. In distinct and winning voices, Evelina and Judge Coutts unravel the intertwining stories of their families, their friends, and their lovers, the descendents of both the perpetrators and victims of the historic crime. Louise Erdrich's characteristically graceful prose and sense of the comic and the tragic sweep readers along to the surprising conclusion of this stunning novel, a portrait of the complex allegiances, passions, and drama of a haunting land and its all-too-human people.
Louise Erdrich has just become one of my new favorite authors. This was an excellent book. Have you ever finished a book and felt like your own words were not enough to convey how great a book was? Because that's how I'm feeling right now. Simply put, Erdrich has a beautiful voice. I found myself pulled into this story just because of her writing style alone. She writes her tale in a non-linear fashion but never lets the reader falter or become confused. Her language was just exquisite. It was honestly hard for me to put this book down--not so much because it was riveting plot-wise (because it really wasn't) but because I felt like I was bathing in her words. She has a way of wording things that makes so much sense but that you would never think of yourself. In one scene, the narrator at the time, Evelina, is describing her parents helping her move into college and what it was like just before they left her:
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.
My favorite part of reading books is often the characters. Nothing makes me happier than when I read a book with characters I know I won't soon forget or even just characters who are incredibly well-developed. I definitely found those here. My favorite characters were Evelina and then probably Mooshum. The thing that made this book so great for me was that Erdrich weaved the tales of the people living in Pluto and the nearby reservation with such care that I felt like I was glimpsing parts of a spiderweb as the intricate connections between characters slowly came to light. As I said before, this is not a book with much going on as far as the plot is concerned, but I never felt as though that took away from it. I rather enjoyed hearing these stories, learning the history of the town and its characters, and discovering all of the connections until the final surprise at the end.
If I were asked to say what this book was about, I think that honestly the publisher's blurb is perfect and I couldn't word it any other way. I'd recommend this for those looking for a new author to try or for those who like immersing themselves in the language and the telling of a story.