North Dakota

Photo of Steele County, North Dakota, by D. Bjorn used under a Creative Commons license.

Louise Erdrich, The Plague of Doves (Harper, 2008).
In 1911, a family of white farmers in North Dakota is killed, all but a baby girl; a lynch mob blames three local Indians and hangs them.  Erdrich’s novel tells the intertwined stories of many of the descendants of the Indians and whites living in the (fictional) town of Pluto and on the nearby Chippewa reservation.

Here is Erdrich’s Wikipedia bio. Here’s an excerpt. Erdrich’s story, “The Plague of Days,” adapted into a chapter in the book, was published in The New Yorker. John Freeman (The Independent) profiled Erdrich. Claire Messud (The New York Review of Books) writes that Erdrich’s ability to bring disparate stories to life is a symphonic achievement. Brigitte Frase (The Los Angeles Times) says Erdrich composes complex symphonies filled with a complex wisdom. Laura Feigel (The Observer) says Erdrich’s North Dakota has hallucinogenic domesticity. Michiko Kakutani (The New York Times) likens Erdrich to Faulkner, in which she is hardly alone. Jenny Shank (Rocky Mountain News) says every character has a trove of stories. Matt Buckingham (Willamette Weekly) calls it a masterful performance. Donna Seaman (Chicago Tribune) says once all become clear, readers will want to start from the beginning again. Ron Charles (The Washington Post) says Erdrich’s sprawling cast becomes a living demonstration of the repercussions of cruelty. Ann Harleman (Boston Globe) thinks you’ll read this book for its stories. Yvonne Zipp (Christian Science Monitor) liked fitting each segment into the underlying puzzle. In Erdrich’s North Dakota, Richard Wakefield (Seattle Times) writes, the past remains utterly present. Carol Memmett (USA Today) says Erdrich’s stories share the sensibility of oral traditions of past centuries. Peter Makuck (Raleigh News & Observer) says the novel is about how the past haunts the present. Bruce Barcott (The New York Times) calls it a gorgeous and opaque portrait of a community strangled by its own history. Wendy L. Smith (San Diego Union-Tribune) says Erdrich fuses beauty with pain. Mary Whipple says it’s a triumph. Pam describes it as haunting. J.A. (Barcelona Review) was sad when it ended. Sue Bond (The Courier-Mail) says the novel is a cycle of time and storytelling. Jonathan Bergey (Keyhole Magazine) liked it less than most reviewers. Joan Frank (San Francisco Chronicle) says it’s equal parts serendipity and inevitability. Jennifer calls it a magnificent read. Jeff Baker was humbled. Maira liked it enough to pass it on to friends. Philippa Thomas calls it compelling, mesmerising and visceral. Listen to Erdrich’s appearance on NPR’s On Point. Here’s a podcast of Erdrich’s appearance on KQED’s Forum. Liane Hansen spoke to Erdrich on NPR’s Weekend Edition. Or listen to Erdrich read here.

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Missouri River
Photo of the Missouri River by JoePhoto used under a Creative Commons license.

Leif Enger, Peace Like a River (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2002).
As part of the Columbia Spectator‘s 50 States of Literature series, Melanie Jones writes:

Few contemporary novels better capture the beauty and cruelty of the North Dakota Badlands than [this one]. Reuben Land was a still-born baby, brought back to life by his father, Jeremiah, in one of many “miracles” he performs throughout the novel. Now 11 and severely asthmatic, Reuben and his sister Swede live in a 1960s Minnesota town, both devoted to the Old West and stories of Sunny Sundown, a rugged adventurer. When their brother Davy is convicted of manslaughter, however, the siblings’ notions of guilt and justice are challenged-and when Davy escapes to the Badlands, the family decides to follow him. Enger lends great detail to the “great empty” barns, “paintless and built of square-hewn timbers,” as well as the “snow … hard and clean-shaven and the broken hills [rising] on top of it.” More than the civilization that has attempted to force itself upon the land, Enger captures the terrible beauty of that land untamed-generations ago, lightning had sliced a cottonwood whose roots led to lignite, and the result is a “garden of fire,” a maze of veined earth with “smoke and heat and sporadic flames” issuing from the cracks. Later, when Reuben sees the Dakota night for the first time: “Here was the whole dizzying sky above us. … We were inside the sky.” . . .

Google Book Search has an excerpt. Here is another excerpt. Here is one interview of Enger, and another. And another, with Jody Ewing. Here are reviews from Tom Isern of North Dakota State University, David Abrams (January), Katherine Dieckmann (The New York Times Book Review), Jenny Spadafora (12frogs), Jana Siciliano (, Renee, Matt Jones, and Bradley Mariska ( Nicole Eckblad did this project based on the novel for her communications class. And Minnesota Public Radio, where Enger used to work, has this story about him with a brief interview and some additional links.

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