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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Hey Guys I Read a Book

“I knew each person's delusion, the places their records had scratched, where the sounds repeated.”
Here I am writing another post about a book which begins with a massive flock of passenger pigeons descending on a small town. This world is full of cycles, I notice, as we suffer triple digit heat just before the anniversary of the hottest day of the year last year. On that day, one July 4, 2014, my family moved to the sleepy little burg of Springville, UT and began to take the town by storm. By take the town by storm I mean that we figured out which was our favorite pizza place and have taken advantage of the local library and the local art museum in a way I can only describe as obscene.

On that day our swamp cooler struggled to keep up with the soaring temperatures, and we were forced to huddle, like kittens on an overheating laptop, in the oscillating cone of a fan. We ate hot dogs without buns on that day, which I stubbornly cooked on a grill when simply laying them on the sidewalk would have given them the same effect in much shorter time. Today it was too hot to turn on the oven, so we got the aforementioned pizza and here we huddle. The fan is soothing in its inability to keep us cool. We don't really huddle because sweat is gross, even among families.

Another book about pigeons, and another book of bouncing narrative. One that tells many stories at once, across many generations, and how each generation effects the next in ways both charming and horrifying.

The Plague of Doves is about families, by the way. It's also about passenger pigeons, but to a much, much lesser extent. There are some books that must have metaphors, and I read the whole book and miss them. A part of me vaguely wonders if I didn't give it enough attention and somehow got less from the experience. That part of me generally gets drowned out by the one that wants to read just so many comic books. Louise Erdrich's book works in metaphor so deftly, though, that I couldn't help but put it down at times and puzzle out the way these family's plights weave together.

If I were an english professor, all bitter at my life's failures and attempting to take them out on the next generation of future failures, I would assign this book as a tutorial on how to read literature as more than a story. I would stroll into class late every day, looking rumpled and confused, and lead a discussion among them saying "this. This is how to write a book. I don't know how to write a book or I wouldn't be in this position, but I'm pretty sure if I could do this, I wouldn't be here with you essentially forcing you to watch my slow decline." I would stab at the book with my index finger, both in awe at its construction and in a deep anger, as if my finger is a sword and I can pierce it, drink its blood, and take on its power like the frickin Highlander.

I am but a humble wildlife biologist, however, so I will not deteriorate before your very eyes, but instead return to a dumb blog bright eyed from recent victorious endeavors in the deep (for Utah) forests. Then I will, as I am doing now but writing about in future tense, regale you with what I thought of The Plague of Doves.

Here is what I thought: It's good.

“When we are young, the words are scattered all around us. As they are assembled by experience, so also are we, sentence by sentence, until the story takes shape.”
Evelina Harp sits at the feet of her Grandfather Mooshum while he tells her stories. She is half Ojibwe, or what we'd commonly call Chippewa, and lives in a small town located within a reservation, but is not part of the reservation.  There are lots of stories. How he met her grandmother, for example, that are charming and lovely. There are other stories that are not. The big one centers around a murder and a subsequent lynching. As the story jumps between narrators and eras, you trace the impacts of that event and many smaller events on Evelina, her family, and her neighbors.

There is a fire and brimstone pastor who survives a lightning strike, a one-armed fiddler, and one of the great revenge stories I've read in recent memory. A bad kid goes good, a good girl goes bad, and pigeons fly up from the outhouse as the privy door is opened. Like life, you know? Every time you open that outhouse door there might be a pigeon flying out of it. You just don't know.