Top critical review
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on 23 February 2009
In the tiny township of Pluto, North Dakota, a family are murdered, all but a baby girl. The ripples caused by this event finally dissipate in the life of Evelina Harp, whose family and neighbours are caught up in the incident in various ways. Pluto is a place of intersecting and complicated relationships and Evelina, part Ojibwe, finds growing up and leaving presents peculiar and almost insurmountable challenges.
If my summary seems oblique, then this reflects the plot of "A Plague of Doves". The story is narrated by Evelina, the granddaughter of Mooshum who suffers a terrible injustice and Judge Coutts, who courts Evelina's aunt and tells the story of the Peace family, whose life is interwoven with Evelina's. The links between the two are so tangential and there are so many discursions into other tales about the history of Pluto and its founders; that it's difficult to maintain a sense of the basic story line and because of this any tension that might be generated by the central incident - the slaying of the family - dissipates early on. This is a pity because Erdrich's writing is playful and richly descriptive, but without the rigour of a plot, tends to ramble in any direction that takes the author's interest. We have anecdotes about violins, legends of the Ojibwe clan, stories about lost settlers and an excursion into the sinister snake cult set up by Billy Peace, all of which add colour, but contribute nothing to the resolution of the story. This telling of side stories can work very well, but only when the plot is strong enough to pull the reader back in and while the writing is strong enough to make "Plague of Doves" worth reading for this alone, the lack of a central story may leave you feeling lost.