(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Master Butchers Singing Club adds another family saga to those of the residents of Argus, North Dakota, whom Erdrich’s readers have been getting to know since the 1980’s. Fidelis Waldvogel’s return from World War I in 1918 and his emigration from Germany in 1922 begin a narrative that moves through the development of small-town culture in the upper Midwest at the twentieth century’s beginning to the Great Depression; it culminates nine years after the end of World War II.

Erdrich’s genius for metaphor is employed in her creation of chapter titles. For example, chapter three, “The Bones,” begins with Argus’s structure as a town; the framework of Fidelis’s life shifts when Eva arrives with “their” son; Fidelis opens a butcher shop which schedules his life through work; Cyprian and Delphine establish a fake marriage to mollify the townspeople; and Roy is found wallowing in filth and confusion. The chapter’s events allude to bones’ functions as support, and other chapter titles suggest metaphors for memory, time, and patterns of connection in human lives.

Early in the novel, Fidelis founds a singing club like the one he remembers in his German home, Ludwigsruhe, and the men begin weekly meetings to harmonize and socialize. Delphine struggles to negotiate the early childhood loss of her mother and the alcoholic incompetence of her father. Cyprian struggles with his homosexual desires. Confronting Cyprian after she...

(The entire section is 496 words.)