The Plague of Doves

by Louise Erdrich

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The Reptile Garden Summary

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Last Updated on February 4, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 638

Evelina narrates this section. In 1972, she goes to college but doesn’t fit in with anyone. Her roommate is set on becoming a nurse. Evelina is obsessed with going to Paris and becomes passionate about the writer Anaïs Nin.

Evelina reads Anaïs’s diaries and writings. Soon, she moves in with a group of hippies but cannot bear the dirtiness of the house, which she keeps clean. Once at a party she takes acid from Corwin and sleeps for days. After that she feels she belongs with nobody but Anaïs, and the closest thing is a mental hospital, so she goes to work in one.

In the hospital is Warren, who is always up early. Evelina helps him take his pills. Daily, Evelina wakes and records her dreams, escorts patients, and talks to her coworker Lucille.

A young woman named Nonette, about Evelina’s age, is admitted. She wears a man’s suit with kitten heels and black eyeliner. She explains to Evelina that she wants to be born neutral, rather than as a woman or a man, and without any sex drive. She says she has been obsessed with sex since she was nine and sexually abused by her cousin. Now she wants gender reassignment surgery so she won’t have to put up with it. Evelina finds her very beautiful.

Nonette sits outside with Evelina, smoking. She leans across, puts out her cigarette, and kisses Evelina. Evelina did not know two women could do this but is filled with curiosity.

Evelina now cannot stop thinking of Nonette. This feels like something that would happen to Anaïs. She encounters Nonette in the steam tunnels underground and they go to the boiler room and kiss again. Later, she and Nonette agree to tell the authorities they’ve asked for a “patient visit” so Evelina can work with Nonette out of hours. It’s explained that Nonette is on lithium and has problems, but Evelina says they are just going to make cookies.

They do make cookies, but then they make love in Evelina’s room. Afterward, Nonette says she is going home next week, and Evelina realizes this has meant nothing to Nonette but everything to her. She takes to her bed. Eventually she signs herself in as a patient and lies still for days. 

Joseph comes to visit, and Evelina tells him about taking acid and that she saw reptiles when she did it. Their parents come every weekend to see her, and one day Corwin comes. He feels guilty for having given Evelina acid in the first place. He gets out his fiddle and plays, and it fills everyone with calm, even Warren. When he finishes, Evelina leaves the hospital with Corwin, leaving her Anaïs Nin books behind. She tells Corwin she is a lesbian. He drives her home, where she sits outside with Mooshum until Clemence calls them in.

A few days later, she goes to see Mary Anita at the convent and says she has been thinking of becoming a nun. Then she confesses she’s been in a mental hospital. She asks whether Mary Anita became a nun to atone for her ancestors’ sins. Mary Anita says no, but she also says she knows that Mooshum, drunk, had told Eugene Wildstrand that he and the others had been at the farmhouse. This was why he was spared the hanging. Mary Anita says she’ll pray for Evelinea’s sanity and her vocation. She gives her a brown paper bag. 

Evelina goes home. In the paper bag are Holy Tracks’s boots. She takes them down to Mushoom, who staggers with shock. He asks Evelina to drive him to the tree. They take the boots, knot the laces, and throw the boots up into the tree to hang there.

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