Erdrich’s interlinked central themes are much the same in The Beet Queen as in her other fiction (her short stories as well as the novels of this tetralogy): the necessity for membership in a family group, whether natal or adoptive, and often tribal rather than the conventional nuclear model; the irresistible attraction of home, in its difference from other places and its rarely grudging welcome; and the overriding power of love, whether eros or agape, to draw and to heal those who are (or believe that they have been) victimized by life. Her evocative, many-voiced style is poetic in the best sense of the word, in its economy, its luminousness, and its silences that speak as powerfully as what is said. Her characters are mainly outsiders, marginal people who want to belong but are prevented from attaining full assimilation by their racial origin or orphanhood or sexual preferences or even, and most especially, their oddness of character. A striking, at many times harsh, realism is interwoven with mythical moments: Erdrich may be the prime North American practitioner of Magical Realism. The narrational tone shifts from one voice to another, residing in at least seven character-narrators as well as a third-person omniscient teller, moving between extremes such as sanity and madness (in Sita’s case) and shifting in a Flaubertian free indirect style often within the same paragraph. Yet the various attitudes toward the story coalesce into a satisfying whole in spite of often crucial differences in perception.
That whole must be constructed by the reader out of what is less a centrifugal novel in the Euro-Anglo tradition than a cycle of tales, circular in form as in Amerindian narrative. It is curative in intention as in American Indian dance or the medicine wheel—the sacred hoop, as Black Elk spoke of it. Structure...
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