As she’s done so many times before, Ms. Erdrich uses several characters to narrate alternating chapters (the same technique pioneered by Faulkner in As I Lay Dying), giving us a choral story that unfolds from multiple perspectives. Only gradually are the relationships between these characters and their ancestors revealed, resulting in an elliptical, jigsaw puzzle of a narrative that italicizes the hold that time past exerts over time present … Writing in prose that combines the magical sleight of hand of Gabriel García Márquez with the earthy, American rhythms of Faulkner, Ms. Erdrich traces the connections between these characters and their many friends and relatives with sympathy, humor and the unsentimental ardor of a writer who sees that the tragedy and comedy in her people’s lives are ineluctably commingled … She has written what is arguably her most ambitious — and in many ways, her most deeply affecting — work yet.
In The Plague of Doves, Erdrich returns to familiar territory, the stark plains of North Dakota, where the little town of Pluto sits beside rusting railroad tracks, slowly dying. What’s killing it? Old grudges, lack of opportunity, long-haul trucking, modernity itself … The tension between Indians and whites in The Plague of Doves is both historical and geographical. Pluto is next to the reservation, and some say the town fathers stole tribal land. That’s minor, though, compared with the real stain on Pluto’s reputation: ‘In 1911, five members of a family — parents, a teenage girl, and an 8- and a 4-year-old boy — were murdered,’ one of the narrators recalls … The question of who really murdered that farm family adds suspense to the plot, but deeper, more satisfying discoveries arrive with the slow unspooling of the community’s bloodlines, with their rich and complex romantic entanglements.
The Plague of Doves is a multi-generational novel-in-stories of the intertwined lives of the whites in the town of Pluto, N.D., and the Native Americans and mixed-blood Metis people of French ancestry who live on the reservation surrounding it. Moving back and forth in time, four narrators take turns uncovering layer after layer of past and present … Erdrich moves seamlessly from grief to sexual ecstasy, from comedy (Mooshum's proof of the nonexistence of hell is priceless) to tragedy, from richly layered observations of nature and human nature to magical realism. She is less storyteller than medium. One has the sense that voices and events pour into her and reemerge with crackling intensity, as keening music trembling between sorrow and joy.