Just finished this novel last night. I don't read a lot of novels, but I have a few on my shelf which have always come to me strongly recommended by someone I trust. I don't remember who gave me this one. It might have been B. She is very much into all things native.
The book is excellent. It also was a 1984 bestseller and got a book critics circle award for fiction. It was Erdrich's first novel, and I am sure that many of the subplots in it are bits and pieces from her upbringing as a half-Chippewa in North Dakota.
What strikes me about it, first, is the variety of perspectives the author is able to take. She writes from first and third person perspectives of male and female characters, young and old. She takes a hard look at alcoholism, and PTSD, at our legal system, at the rivalries and drama of siblings and marriages and humanity. In the end I was lifted by her compassion, by knowing that there is a person out there who sees the love inside of troubled people and can write about it.
The book tells tales on Lulu Lamartine throughout the book, but you don't get to hear about the world from her point of view until the very end. I liked Lulu, and many of the other characters. Lulu took pleasure in life, in men, in her many sons. She saw the beauty in things. She forgave. She kept her secrets. There are those who would judge her for her sexuality, but there were many in the tribe that didn't, because they participated in it.
Another striking thing about this book is the way the stories unfold over time as each chapter tells another point of view. The stories gradually work from long past to present, but sometimes in the present the truth is buried, instead of revealed. Other stories come to light and make a difference for someone. One of the most basic stories is that of a person's origins. Who are your parents? Where did you come from? Do you know? In a world full of illegitimate children, it's not a given.
I have a copy here to give away. I recommend it.
The sirens blared for a minute yesterday morning, still tested monthly on the first Wednesday of the month. My mother has no idea what to do if they go off. She says she supposes she'd turn on the radio and wait for instructions. I remember when there was a real feeling of fear, here. We thought we'd be the first ones to get bombed. This town was built in the 1940's to support the production of the atomic bombs and other secrets. Whoever names the city calls it "Secret City" now---it used to be the "Atomic City" but I guess that's not such a popular name these days.
The scientists who work at the labs don't live in Oak Ridge anymore. I used to think of Oak Ridge as a pocket of international PhD's who were above the southern morass. Educated and openminded. That is no longer true. The road between the plants and West Knoxville has many more lanes, and at rush hour you can see where the lab personnel are going. My friends tell me that Oak Ridge is become more like the rest of east Tennessee, that is, less educated and more religious and patriotic.
Patriotic externally at least. On my mother's block most houses have a flag or some sort of "God Bless America" display going on. My mother has an American flag hanging on her front gate, and there's one in the window of her neighbor's house, and one on the porch of the neighbor across the street. My father, in another neighborhood, also has one up. I don't know what exactly all these flags mean. I think that if you do not display your patriotism, you are suspect of being a terrorist. I also suspect that the flags declare gun ownership, because the second amendment is enshrined here. Certainly one would be foolish to threaten anyone, because stickers on vehicles declare that their guns will only be removed from cold dead hands, or that the guns will be smoking hot and out of ammo. Hanging a flag is in a sense cammo for my relatives who are not so well armed.
Religiousness is endemic here. Christianity, to be specific. My mother says Baptists are the dominant sect but the Catholics and Methodists have churches near here and active communities. I walked by the Methodist church this morning, taking the dog out, and noticed that they have a "First Steps" program for "child development". Every church has some program for the little ones. It occurs to me to wonder, does anyone attempt to teach the little ones skepticism and critical thinking? Are the children getting properly socialized, or dogmatized? Probably some of each, I suspect.
Oak Ridge is overwhelmingly white. I did run across a Hispanic mother and her two children waiting for the bus. She kept them far away from my mother's dog. And I have seen a few blacks here and there. The talker who used to work at the gym who now hangs out by the door at Panera to keep social. He doesn't know when to say goodbye. Another nonwhite is my mother's old friend Dimitri who is Middle Eastern, and walks everywhere, picking up trash and coins from the sidewalks. He was an engineer at the plant, has plenty of money in the bank, but lives in a tiny apartment and does not own a car. I would like to talk to him. I haven't seen a single native since I've been here, that is, aside from white eyes who were born here like myself.