By Amy Adams ι Nov. 7, 2013
I recently read “The Plague of Doves” by Louise Erdrich. Almost immediately I started composing a blog post about this 2009 Pulitzer Prize nominee. The strands of my response quickly turned to dust though.
“The Plague of Doves” is a very complex story with a lot of subtleties. Even weeks after I’ve finished it, I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. One thought from my tangled musings has persisted — this book isn’t for everyone.
I realize that I say that a lot about the books that I talk about on this blog, so I thought it might be a good idea to explain why.
“The Plague of Doves” uses a nontraditional narrative structure. It doesn’t have a clean beginning, middle and end. It switches narrators. It jumps through time.
I happen to love novels that use these techniques. My first exposure to a story told this way was required high school reading — “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller.
“Catch-22” jumps back and forth through time a lot. An event in the central character Yossarian’s life is retold several times, each time revealing a little bit more about what happened. This proves to be an effective tool for building up to the full emotional effect of what Yossarian experienced. You suddenly understand why he feels the way he does.
If the story had been told with a traditional, linear progression, the lynch pin moment wouldn’t have had as big of an effect on the reader. It could have easily been glossed over as just another scene in the novel.
In the case of “The Plague of Doves,” the ambiguity about time and place adds to the sense of tangled connections that exist in the story.
The main concept I took away from the book, is that the lines that divide us are thin and our stories are intertwined. At the same time, our differences can be insurmountable, built on events that we have no control over or that happened long before we were born.
It’s hard to convey such a complex meaning. Erdrich doesn’t just tell us what happened. She uses structure as a storytelling device, letting the way the novel is organized help to tell the story.
I love this. There is a real craft to it.
For some people, it’s just not their cup of tea. That’s fine. Readers, after all, are a diverse group. The lines that divide us may be thin, but sometimes our differences are insurmountable.
Amy Adams is the library’s Public Relations Coordinator.