Before we began to talk about the book, we spent close to 15 minutes talking about the author, whose life ended in suicide after being accused of child abuse. Kathy was deeply troubled that his wife, Louise Erdrich, stood by him which she felt made her complicit. We wondered how we would feel about reading her work again, as we had read both The Painted Drum and The Masters Butcher Singing Club in the past and had talked about maybe adding another one of her's to our list. Cheryl questioned if we need to like the artist to like the art. It's a good question. Welcome Diana - we are so glad you've joined our raucous readers.
That said, it didn't stop our group from another riotous book discussion. I was unable to find book club guides for this title. It appears this is taught at the college level and so there were plenty of essays and critiques, which means we pretty much just talked about the book and the characters.
We did like the way it unfolded the further you read. Some found Christine to be intolerable, abandoning her daughter as she did. Madelon, who grew up in Klamath Falls and with Klamath natives, said she was familiar with the privacy and secrets and the disinterest in owning material things as a way of life.
While it wasn't Aunt Ida's story, we felt that she was the thread that ran through it. Kathy recalled her saying, "I never grew up. I just got old." We shook our heads at all the secrets that the priests were required to keep, and especially liked Father Hurlbert who befriended Aunt Ida was continued to remain alienated after Willard Pretty Dog.
We contrasted Father Tom with Evelyn, the tough cookie who was the one who took Rayona back to her people after being abandoned by the priest. When Sky asked her why - because someone should have done it for her. Who acted as the person of Faith?!!
This was my third time to read this book and I've liked it better each time. Cheryl said that there was so much that she felt was going over her head that she will probably at some point read it again also, which is what happened to me! We wondered who would raise Rayona, who seemed to have found herself through Babe, the horse. Would it be Dayton who wondered if Rayona would like him? Would the half-breed raise the half-breed? I felt like Dorris meant some parallels between Babe falling in love and something that I was missing. Anyone? Anyone? Ferris??
We loved the forgiveness and peace that came to Dayton and Christine as her life was concluding. We couldn't decide what Dorris meant at the end of Christine's section when everything was so bright that she forgot she was wearing sunglasses. Was this her end? And speaking of Dayton, we questioned the relationship he had with Lee. Dorris certainly gave enough cues with the orderliness and aesthetic of his house.
Aunt Ida's section answers so many of questions and raises more. We all said we had to flip back to the section when Aunt Ida came to Seattle to see Clara in the hospital. Aunt Ida, who should have said no three time, had years of contentment with her children until Lee was killed. Would Christine fallen into alcoholism had Lee lived? How much of the rest of her life was driven by her guilt? So many "what if" questions around his death.
Next month we will be reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.