Monday, September 16, 2013

THE BEET QUEEN by Louise Erdrich

Karl and Mary's mother runs off with a stunt pilot in 1929, leaving them to take care of their newborn brother.  Who can resist an opening like this?  A young couple absconds with the baby, and Karl and Mary hop a train to Argus, ND, where their mother's sister lives.  Frightened by a dog in Argus, Karl returns to the train, so that all three siblings grow up separately.  Aunt Fritzie and her husband run a butcher shop, which Mary eventually takes over, since their natural daughter, Sita, is more suited to other pursuits, such as department store modeling.  Karl returns to Argus as an adult and fathers a daughter, nicknamed Dot, with Mary's close friend Celestine.  The author weaves together the stories of all these characters, interleaving their perspectives, into a colorful tapestry of lives that are ordinary and yet compelling.  Celestine and Mary both dote on Dot and compete for the affection of this quite impulsive and unruly child.  Dot is the center of their universe, and ours, too, as she hoodwinks Mary into thinking that her first grade teacher is a tyrant, knocks out another child's tooth, and wreaks havoc on the Christmas play.  Some scenes in the book are hilarious, in a disturbing sort of way, and the author never lets our unfortunate characters get too maudlin.  Except for Sita, the women are all strong, impetuous, and singularly unattractive.  This latter trait doesn't slow them down, though.  Their lives are worthy of our consideration, as we gape at how they respond to various nuisances in a completely unexpected way, with little consideration for the consequences.  After reading this book, you'll be a little leery of Jell-O salads.  Really.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I LOVE the title. :)

THANKS for your review.

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