One of Erdrich's best - just shy of [b:Plague of Doves|2227528|The Plague of Doves|Louise Erdrich|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1327937597s/2227528.jpg|2658613] and [b:The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse|63837|The Last Report On The Miracles At Little No Horse|Louise Erdrich|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1355127660s/63837.jpg|12615227]. It's remarkable that this is just her second. Although still episodic, The Beet Queen
has a strong narrative flow and a great symmetry to the story that I found most satisfying.
Other things I loved:
- fabulous, quirky characters, including three especially strong female characters (I'm drawing a blank right now whether we meet Mary Adare anywhere else, or Dot - I think for sure the latter.*)
- gorgeous, poetic language
- the most powerful opening chapter I've read in a long time: writers, take note
- some gentle magical realism (not as much as in her others - but there is less spirituality/Catholicism here overall compared to her later works)
- a ton of humour: this might be one of her funniest! Almost slapstick in places; very physical and dark, too* I clearly need to go back and read these in the order she wrote them
I adore how Erdrich writes these women and men: all of whom are misfits socially, emotionally and in many ways physically. There's a lot of physical disintegration here - natural aging as well as bodies beaten up and breaking down (minds, too). A sleeper character is Wallace Pfef: understated, yet central. Wallace is the most gentle and nurturing of all the characters amidst a quiet but distinct physical harshness - he rescues a stray dog, delivers Celestine's baby, attends to Karl, and acts the diplomat and the centrifugal force that binds them together. He is
the Beet Queen King, who brings that crop - and prosperity - to the town.
If I have one quibble, it's with the way Erdrich manages time over the course of the book. Between the chapters (each of which is told by a different character; some first person, some third), and sometimes within them, there are leaps ahead; or back-tracking to fill in gaps or show the same scene from another perspective, but these are inconsistent and sometimes jarring. It causes the book to feel choppy as a novel - and this was clearly more novel in form than short story.
And just by way of personal preference, I like Erdrich when she is exploring native culture more directly, and native v. Catholic spirituality. Regardless, The Beet Queen
is a strong and integral link in the Erdrich oeuvre.