One of Erdrich s best just shy of Plague of Doves and The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse It s remarkable that this is just her second Although still episodic, The Beet Queen has a strong narrative flow and a great symmetry to the story that I found most satisfying Other things I loved fabulous, quirky characters, including three especially strong female characters I m drawing a blank right now whether we meet Mary Adare anywhere else, or Dot I think for sure the latter gorgeous, poetic language the most powerful opening chapter I ve read in a long time writers, take note some gentle magical realism not as much as in her others but there is less spirituality Catholicism here overall compared to her later works a ton of humour this might be one of her funniest Almost slapstick in places very physical and dark, too I clearly need to go back and read these in the order she wrote themI adore how Erdrich writes these women and men all of whom are misfits socially, emotionally and in many ways physically There s a lot of physical disintegration here natural aging as well as bodies beaten up and breaking down minds, too A sleeper character is Wallace Pfef understated, yet central Wallace is the most gentle and nurturing of all the characters amidst a quiet but distinct physical harshness he view spoiler rescues a stray dog, delivers Celestine s baby, attends to Karl, and hide spoiler Now, from the award winning author of Love Medicine, comes a vibrant tale of abandonment and sexual obsession, jealousy and unstinting love On a spring morning in 1932, young Karl and Mary Adare arrive by boxcar in Argus, North Dakota Orphaned in a most peculiar way, Karl and Mary look for refuge to their mother s sister Fritzie, who with her husband, Pete, runs a butcher shop So begins an exhilerating 40 year saga brimming with unforgettable characters Ordinary Mary, who causes a miracle seductive Karl, who lacks Mary s gift for survival Sita, their lovely, disturbed, ambitious cousin Wallace Pfef, a town leader bearing a lonely secret Celestine James, a mixed blood Chippewa and her daughter, Dot Theirs is a story grounded in the tenacity of relationships, the magic of natural events and the unending mystery of the human condition. From the very first page I was reminded why I added all Louise Erdrich s books to my list after reading Love Medicine the characters The people who are fabulous than real , the people who Erdrich has not so much created as set in motion and followed, perhaps sometimes in horror, as they behave in ways we and I suspect she, and they did not expect The sheer exhilaration of knowing these people is a tonic to the jaded reader, and knowing other people always enables me to know myself, here most uncomfortably.For example, the first segments introduce Adelaide and her two children Karl and Mary Mary is a practical person who capably cares for and protects others, though she does so automatically and dutifully rather than out of love I immediately sided with Mary against romantic, selfish, weak spirited Adelaide and Karl, but they have an appealing glamour, as does Mary Karl s equally selfish cousin, Sita, and glamour is, after all, one of the world s leavens I helplessly side with Mary against aesthetic sensibility, against soft fragrant blossoms on a fragile branch Even though Mary and shows fallibility, makes bad choices, and behaves cruelly towards Adelaide, acting out of hatred where Adelaide acts out of love, my sympathies stay with Mary Karl is pitiful, and I can t pity him What is wrong with my empathy I was able to forgive Adelaide, but I could not condemn Mary and Adelaide s sister Fritzie for the vengeful way they treat her both ended up justified in the court of my heartI loved this book, but not as much as I loved Love Medicine, because although there are some Chippewa people, there isn t much readable Indian ness This is of course a racist complaint, that belongs to a pattern You aren t Black Native American Chinese exotic enough , complains the White, over and over again, in a gesture that disqualifies, re excludes, re erases I would like to loudly affirm that I have no right whatsoever to define what is or is not Native Indian Ojibwe in this book or anywhere else However, unlike in Love Medicine, I was not able to recognise much that did not fit into my view of a mainly White USian small town culture The appeal of this book is, as Angela Carter wrote, in its insight into America as violent, passionate and surprising For me the central butcher s shop is inescapably a site of violence, but it tends to function much positively as a node of community where social reproduction and creativity are enacted and Mary and Celestine and Dot are sustained I can t step outside my vegan perspective so for me this works as a microcosm for the survival and intermittent flourishing within and under the aegis of the violent US state and other structures of domination.My favourite segment is the one where injured, dying Karl is rescued by Fleur, who heals him totally impersonally, without question and without tenderness, in a characteristically rugged, spectacularly visualised dramatisation of the impetus to sustain life built into her consciousness I wanted of Fleur I hope to meet her again in other books from this cycle The realistically flawed friendship between Mary and Celestine also appealed to me I liked the suggestion that they were initially drawn to each other by a subtle awareness of shared native blood Mary s trajectory of character develoment was quite surprising to me her interest in mysticism that seemed to be sparked by the miracle she inadvertantly revealed in her early school days has a bathetic quality because she seems to lack gifts of prophecy entirely It took me a long time and many instances to accept her fallibility and vulnerability, which Celestine also takes time to become aware of.There are so many other interesting characters Dot who I met and loved as an adult in Love Medicine is here a child and teenager inspiring ambivalent sympathy and exasperation, while her namesake Wallace is delicately written, his life of wealth and comfort counterpointed by his isolation, his capitalist influence on the social structure made less insidious by his vulnerable, earnest, kind personality and his talent for designing festivity I wanted to spend time with Russell and Eli too.The most brilliant scene might be Karl s visit to Sita s house, where he sinks into the Earth after a discussion of earthworms and an extremely rash accusation by Sita, and she is transported into the Book of Revelation, her silver jewellery hanging in a tree She addresses her scientist husband obliquely You are not in the book, y ou are down there with your specimens Perhaps she is offering a visionary reading of science and religion enmeshed with their objects This is the best example of the sheer vibrance of Erdrich s style, the way she plunges into fantasy like a diver, or like a needle threading in and out, bringing the familiar into contact with its lost imaginary, the way she ploughs up the language throwing out glittering lumps of uncut gems, constantly dazzling, buzzing with energy The stories amble, plod, go backwards, loop the loop, skip over decades, linger over some mundanity whose significance is yet unrevealed, return and re return, defying the line of time my mind is trained to string events on, but the prose dashes like a dogsled, in fact like St Nicholas pulled by nine galloping reindeer, jingling bells, lurching implausibly into the sky, dripping impossible snow and packages of magic down your chimney, making your heart race, trampling disbelief. There is no one for creating rich, unpredictable, maddening, hilarious and heartbreaking characters like Louise Erdrich To read her is to study the craft of creating unique voices each of her characters, and there are so very many in The Beet Queen takes three dimensional, Technicolor shape in your mind Within The Beet Queen are familiar names and faces, such that I encourage any reader to begin with Love Medicine to get the full scope of the Kashpaw history, but it s not necessary to wring full satisfaction out of this novel It may seem that three stars is a low rating, but I assign this within the context of the other Erdrich novels I have read The Beet Queen didn t elicit the same sense of wonder and depth of emotion as Love Medicine or The Round House and at times I felt a profound weariness Multi generational novels that span decades can lose something to time a sense of immediacy and an over familiarity with the characters behavior that wears down the edge of the plot Yet to read this is to experience a type of fiction that I see less and less of in contemporary works a depth of character and a slow burn of context that eschews formula and is utterly unselfconscious Powerful. I loved the first section of The Beet Queen I was intrigued by the characters, the situations they found themselves in, and their reactions to those situations I was captivated by the luminous beauty of Erdrich s prose I loved the beginning so much, in fact, that I figured I couldn t help but love the rest of the book as well.But I didn t Rather than develop and grow, the characters seemed to wizen and warp as they aged Erdrich lavished attention on the minute details of 1960s cooking, but as the book progresses, there s so little attention to anything that might matter to these characters outside of their bitter ties to one another Their worlds shrink and become too small for things like hope and forgiveness they interact with such a limited range of people And all those people are so broken that they don t even aspire to happiness They ended up seeming like caricatures of small town misery having grown up in a tiny farming town, I know something about that , and by the end, I just didn t care about them. My latest read is The Beet Queen, by Louise Erdrich, a unique tale, and I must honestly say that I m not sure how I feel about it.It starts out by introducing us to Adelaide, a kept woman, who has three children to a married man When this man suddenly dies, it is a catastrophe for her, and one day she abandons her three children in a most unusual and surreal way Those children, Karl, Mary, and a baby boy, end up going three separate ways So, in the beginning, anything can happen to these three children the future is full of both danger and potential Because of the way they were abandoned, I expected the rest of the story to be something akin to a folktale, such as Water for Chocolate, but I was wrong The story is told by several characters in turn, and all of them are people who have made very strange decisions in their lives Actually, I felt that both Karl and Mary were released into the world to become blights on other people s lives, causing heartbreak, jealousy, and animosity In the end, though, that might have been the point relationships are emotional, sometimes painfully so, but somehow, people stick together and live with all the feelings, good and bad They also seek out whatever family they have, so that they can subject them to these feelings without relenting In fact, near the end of this book, there s a long suffering dying woman who would really like to not have the company of Mary and Celestine an old friend turned relative , and winds up retreating to her late husband s rec room, where she starts sleeping on the pool table Now, that s a novel idea a bed with pockets in every corner, so you don t have to get up for anything At the end, I thought that maybe Adelaide s granddaughter was going to escape in the same way she did, but that s not to be And so it ends on a happy note, with at least one person realizing that someone desperately loves her.Louise Erdrich has created some mighty interesting characters for this novel, and also wrote a few very funny scenes And I kept reading, despite the fact that I had no idea where this story was headed Erdrich is a talented writer and I might read some of her other books in the future. This book was easier to follow than its predecessor, Love Medicine Unfortunately it also had an incorrect family tree It drove me batty.According to this one there s a Montana Kashpaw, brother of Eli Eli is in Love Medicine along with his brother not Montana , so where did he come from Then Russell is mentioned as a half brother to Eli but according to the family tree he s the son of Montana I depended heavily on the family tree in Love Medicine so I kept going back to it here and trying to understand I just drove myself crazy instead.This story takes place alongside the events of Love Medicine Some of the characters are the same and all of the families from Love Medicine are in here It is different family members, though, so I don t know that it s necessary to know the prior story It gives some added depth to the world but not to the story itself.The story starts in 1923 when Mary and Karl Adare s mother abandons them and sails off into the sunset Mary and Karl jump a train to head to their aunt s house They re separated from there but they both end up being POV characters The POV characters are Mary, Karl, Sita, Celestine, and Wallace in first person, with occasional bits told in third person of other characters or locations I liked this story than Love Medicine because it was cohesive and linear It was also a very interesting story It had very human characters and I can honestly say I didn t like any of them, except maybe Wallace, but that was partially because they were human rather than good bad.It also had one of the funniest scenes I ve ever read in my life This is of a confession about my neglect than a review of the novel When Erdrich burst on the broad stage of acclaimed writers back in the 1980 s, with her Love Medicine, I sidestepped and have done so ever since then Published in 1986, The Beet Queen contains flashes of brilliance and attempts at it My problem was that I could not see the purpose for the multi narrative structure Time leaps, narrator shifts functioned for their own sake than for deepening the story or working to suppress surprise However, on the other side of my narrow assessment is Erdrich s gymnastic writing and detailed character creations These are genius But, in my thick head I did not grasp Erdrich s dark satiric tone until the last 60 pages Duh However, there is no doubt about these female protagonists strengths that are tested by men, money, business, fashion, community and changing times Mary, Celestine, Sita and Dot survive and to some degree thrive, even while dead, in Sita s case A patrolman and an old beau are drawn to her even though she s a corpse, sitting upright in a pickup truck And, Erdrich avoids naming anyone s race until in the final pages where she states that Celestine as an Indian, a six footer As a result we readers can only use our own small town stereotypes as references But these main characters are drawn so finely that they defy typing.A final confession it took me about a month to read Beet Queen primarily due to the lack of a compelling narrative line For me there was no hook mostly a series of narrators that congealed in the last few pages Sorry, Louise I ll try harder next time. North Dakota sets the stage for the story of Mary Adare and her friends and family When she and her brothers are still young, they are abandoned by their mother at a fair Mary s infant brother is snatched from them at the fair Left with nothing, Mary and Karl hop on a train and set off for Argus, the hometown of Aunt Fritzie and Uncle Pete and their daughter, Sita Mary stays in Argus and grows up in her aunt s house Karl heads off for unknown parts Immediately, a rivalry between Mary and Sita is established Mary snatches Sita s best friend, Celestine, and the fun begins Mary and Celestine become fixtures in Argus, eventually running Fritzie and Pete s butcher shop Sita has other plans.This is a story about family, than anything else The tragic beginnings of the Adare siblings are heartwrenching You will cheer for Mary, no matter how anyone else feels about her And you ll love the people with whom she surrounds herself They are equally unique and lovable.And the beet queen You won t learn her identity until nearly the end of the book But don t worry you ll enjoy the rest of the story so much that you ll forget that you have to wait so long to learn the meaning of the novel s title.10 22 07 Louise Erdrich is the queen of quirky characters and strange stories I might be wrong, because this is only the second book of hers that I have read, so far I do plan to read though It seems like no one is ever normal or looks normal or acts normal It is not bad, just different I like it One never knows what is going to happen from the first page to the last page People are born and people die in her stories but how those events take place, even where, one can never be prepared to imagine Imagery there is a good word It happens in Louise s stories Ok, imaginary too, but not the same Many of the characters in this story are unlikeable Hmm, ok all of them are As unlikeable as they may be, they are fascinating too Their unlikeable ness is unexpected I kept trying to like Mary and Celestine, and even Dot, but it seemed impossible Sita, Karl, Russell and Wallace were no better, but I was not compelled to like them.I can t say any without giving things away and I dislike writing spoilers in my reviews Okay, one thing Don t read this book if you think you are going to find out something about vegetables.