With a poet’s eye, Erdrich does not clutter her prose with imagery in The Plague of Doves. She places images into scenes so that colours and shapes bring a place to life for readers, but she also takes care to allow them to display another layer of meaning.
“Mooshum finished talking as the storm moved over us – the clouds low and black-bellied. In the yard, the sheets were thrashing wild, the overalls and Mooshum’s work shirts were ballooning out. Even my mother’s pastel underthings were flying straight back, wisps, and her bras corkscrewed around the wooden pins and line.”
Here, as a storm approaches, it seems to be linked with a man’s power (rooted in his age and his position in the family and community) and readers feel that intensity but simultaneously notice the feminine fragments spiralling and flitting in the turmoil. (Normally her mother keeps her fragments concealed, drying beneath other items.)
Some of the women in Erdrich’s novels have intense and satisfying relationships with men, deep and lasting; there are also men in these novels who do harm, whether an incident or a pattern, and one girl’s observations embody a wariness which she has absorbed from the experiences of women.
“I was looking at them [men] just to figure, for pure survival, the way a girl does. It is like a farmer, which my dad is, gets to know the lay of the land. He loves his land so he has got to figure how to cultivate it. What it needs in each season, how much abuse it will sustain, what in the end it will yield to him.”