Louise Erdrich's The Master Butchers Singing Club
is a powerfully told story of love, death, redemption, and resurrection. After German soldier Fidelis Waldvogel returns home from World War I to marry his best friend's pregnant widow, he packs up his father's butcher knives and sets sail for America. He settles in Argus, North Dakota, where he sets up a meat shop with his wife Eva, who quickly befriends the struggling yet resourceful Delphine Watzka. Delphine, who runs a vaudeville show with her balancing partner Cyprian Lazarre, has returned home to Argus to care for her alcoholic father. While most of this emotionally rich novel focuses on the changing landscape of small-town life as seen through Delphine and Fidelis's eyes, Erdrich does a masterful job of illuminating hidden dramas through her secondary characters. Erdrich's portrayal of these various townsfolk, including members of the Master Butchers Singing Club, truly shows off her storytelling talent. Her ability to infuse each character with a distinct and multifaceted personality makes this novel an intimate and thought-provoking adventure. --Gisele Toueg
From Publishers Weekly
All of the virtues of Erdrich's best works-her lyrical precision, bleakly beautiful North Dakota settings, deft interweaving of characters and subplots, and haunting evocation of love and its attendant mysteries-are on full display in this superb novel. Drawing on her paternal German ancestry, Erdrich tells the story of Fidelis Waldvogel, a WWI sniper and master butcher with a "talent for stillness" and for singing. After marrying Eva, the pregnant fiancee of his best friend, who was killed in the war, he emigrates to America. Settling in Argus, N.Dak., he and Eva establish a butcher shop known for its Old World expertise and for housing Fidelis's beloved singing club. The focus then shifts to Delphine Watzka, a performer in a traveling vaudeville act, who has recently returned to Argus to care for her alcoholic father, Roy. Roy's health problems pale beside his legal problems: the predatory Sheriff Hock is investigating how the Chavers family came to perish in Roy's basement. Not willing to abandon Roy, Delphine and her vaudeville partner, Cyprian Lazarre, a homosexual Ojibwa, set up house in Argus, where Delphine soon befriends Eva and develops a disturbing attraction to Fidelis. Erdrich's plot spans 36 years, covering two world wars, several violent deaths, near-deaths, illnesses, accidents and crimes-"awful things occurring to other humans," but somehow not to Delphine, who draws on reserves of toughness and compassion to sustain herself as well as the surprisingly vulnerable Waldvogel family. Some readers may be disappointed by the trajectory of the Fidelis-Delphine love story, which is consummated without quite the fireworks display Erdrich seems to promise, but many others will be deeply moved by the complicated romance. With its lush prose, jolts of wisdom and historical sweep, this story is as rich and resonant as any Erdrich has told.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.