Louise Erdrich's The Plague of Doves is set in North Dakota in the Ojibwe reservation and its border town, Pluto. The novel spans nearly a century and begins with the gruesome murder of a farm family in Pluto in 1911. The initial chapter, voiced by an omniscient narrator, describes the murder scene: only the baby is left crying while the murderer plays music on the record player. The sound of the violin soothes the baby, and the murderer looks around at all the blood he has spilled.
The narrative then moves into Erdrich’s style of multiple first-person narrators and grand shifts in time. As the story weaves together, Pluto’s troubled past mingles with that of the Ojibwe reservation, and everyone in the community is somehow connected.
Just after the farm family is murdered, Mooshum (as a teenager) is traveling with his friend, Cuthbert Peace, and Asignak and Holy Track, basket weavers in the community. The four come to the home of the murdered family and are spooked by the bellowing of the unmilked cows on the farm. Asignak senses danger, but Cuthbert insists on going to help the cows. He then hears the baby crying from the house; upon approaching the door, they see blood smeared all around. Cuthbert wants to rescue the baby, but Asignak reminds him that they will likely be blamed for the murder and hanged if they report the crime. Asignak sends an anonymous letter to the authorities. Later, it is revealed that Mooshum, while drunk, mentions their finding the baby to a white man named Eugene Wildstrand, and a mob gathers to go after the four men. The mob catches and hangs the Indians, yet they spare Mooshum. This unjust hanging haunts the town and its descendants for decades—and so begins the unraveling of the town’s history that weaves together the lives of its inhabitants.
At the beginning of the novel, Mooshum relays the story of 1896, when a plague of doves descended upon the area. The birds were everywhere and caused ladies walking down the street to clutch their skirts for fear that the birds would fly into the folds. Among this madness, Mooshum sets eyes on his beloved, a young girl named Junesse, with whom he runs away from home. One day in the woods they meet Mustache Maude Black, a wrangler woman who takes a liking to the pair and offers them a place to sleep in her home. Mooshum and Junesse stay on with Mustache Maude Black until they become the victims of discrimination—another woman is murdered nearby and a mob comes to Maude’s house and demands that she turn over the Indians. Maude shoots and kills the man point blank and gives her best horses to Mooshum and Junesse so they can flee to safety. They go back to the reservation and set up a small farm, raising their children in peace.
Many years later, Mooshum’s daughter, Clemence, lives with her family on the reservation while looking after Mooshum and trying to manage his intake of alcohol. He broods over Clemence’s sister-in-law, Neve Harp, even though she is much younger than he is. When he is not trying to win Neve’s affection, Mooshum sits in the house with his brother Shamengwa and entertains the local priest, Father Cassidy. The priest wants to know why Mooshum has given up his faith but becomes distracted when his shot glass is empty and Clemence is stingy with the bottle. Mooshum exclaims that the Eucharist is really a cannibalistic meal, and Father Cassidy is outraged. He storms out of the house only to pass out in the front yard in a drunken stupor.
Neve Harp wants nothing to do with Mooshum; she has had troubles with men. Neve was once married to John Wildstrand, whose heart could not be contained by the confines of his marriage. He began an affair with an Indian woman, Maggie Peace, yet he would not leave his wife for fear of his own guilt. Maggie becomes pregnant, and her little brother Billy believes John should treat her justly. Billy goes to John’s home and threatens him and his wife, but John convinces Billy to play along in a scheme to cover up the affair. The two...
(The entire section is 1637 words.)