Monday, August 10, 2020

In Celebration of Summer Reading: Louise Erdrich's The Night Watchman


In some ways, I've lost track of time since the Covid-19 quarantine began in March. As spring gave way to summer--and it's always easy to tell the difference in Middle Tennessee--I have been able to read more and more without a trace of guilt. Summers are made for reading.

Never at a loss for a book to read, I still find myself moving back and forth between the unread books on my shelf and the ones I have popping up from my library holds. I am even revisiting Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury right now, a perfect summer book if ever there was one.

Over the weekend, I read Louise Erdrich's latest novel The Night Watchman, set in the 1950s when a bill was proposed in Washington to renege on the agreements made with Native American tribes. Thomas, the title character, works night shift as a security guard in a jewel bearing plant, sleeping maybe 12 hours a week and obsessively reading, writing letters, and gathering support for a trip to Washington to address Congress on behalf of the inhabitants of the Turtle Mountain reservation.

His niece Patrice, whom most people call Pixie--to her dismay--works at the plant to help provide support for her mother and brother, since her dad, a violent alcoholic, has left town. They haven't heard from her sister Vera, who moved to the Cities. Their dreams and visions, however, suggest she is alive but in danger, so Patrice takes a train trip to search for her.

Erdrich peoples all her novels and stories with interrelated characters, including Barnes, the white teacher who is attracted to Patrice, a pair of Mormon elders trying to make inroads with the people they call Lamanites, and the families of the reservation who practice Catholicism without abandoning their own spiritual ways and mysticism. 

The prologue and epilogue reveal that the story is based on experiences of Erdrich's own family, pointing me to a rabbit trail of research I am bound to follow. 


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