I will say that one book I read was one I am not going to tell people I read - it was basically a cross between Brigadoon and a Harlequin novel. I am embarrassed that I read that thing!
Actually I have been reading as Z settles in at night, so she will know I am nearby, but I am not actively singing to her and babying her so much. It's a good time to just be and read and enjoy some peace. A rare commodity indeed. And I've finished two really good books in the last little while.
Tonight I'm only writing about one because it's fresh in my mind and it was mind-blowingly awesome, especially compared to Brigadoon-with-sex. But I think it would be awesome compared to most books. (You would think my vocabulary would be more impressive after reading such an - um - awesome book.)
I'm speaking of "The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse" by Louise Erdrich.
I was going through her catalog at the end of the book tonight and I think I have pretty much read all her novels, starting with "Tracks" in AP English in high school. Yet another habit for which I can thank Ms. Stitham. The last one was "The Master Butcher's Singing Club" - read on our trip to Alaska last summer. Gorgeous.
I think what I love about Erdrich's novels is the mess. Everything is too messy to be clear about, too complicated to be didactic in the least. Even as I say that I am tempted to start a list of dichotomies that swirl around in these books - this book - and it's impossible to do. You can start with magic and miracle, pagan and Christian, but in the middle of it all there are devils and curses and human failings and wonders of nature, love and lust, repercussions of abuses and illnesses, vengeance, forgiveness, music.
This all fits, in "Little No Horse," into a story about a sincere but deceptive Catholic missionary among the Ojibwe, really a gifted female pianist, who started as a nun and became a passionate lover and very nearly a murder victim before finding her priestly vocation - and her struggle with secrets and realities and the complex web of reservation life. Sister Leopolda, a late nun from the res, is up for sainthood, and this pianist/priest, Agnes/Father Damien Modeste, has information about her life that will affect her candidacy. But you can't understand Leopolda without knowing about a hundred other stories and people - many of whom are familiar from Erdrich's other novels. Familiar enough - remember, when I read "Tracks" for the first time it was 16 years ago or so - that I kept turning to the family tree printed at the front of the book, remembering all the connections among these familiar names - Pillager, Nanapush, Kashpaw, Morrissey, Lazarre.
Here are some ideas I loved - not spoilers, I hope.
(Really, even knowing the ending could not spoil this book. It is so much more than a plot. You probably know by now I am a darned sucker for a good story no matter what, but I am an absolute fool for a good story with great ideas.)
Appalling realities might disqualify one person from sainthood, but they don't undo miracles that occurred. And some people who might seem inherently unqualified when you're in the lucky position of an omniscient reader might be saints in spite of it all.
From Father Damien's Sermon to the Snakes:
What is the question we spend our entire lives asking? Our question is this: Are we loved? I don't mean by one another. Are we loved by the one who made us? Constantly, we look for evidence. In the gifts we are given - children, good weather, money, a happy marriage perhaps - we find assurance. In contrast, our pains, illnesses, the deaths of those we love, our poverty, our innocent misfortunes - those we take as signs that God has somehow turned away. But, my friends, what exactly is love here? How to define it? Does God's love have anything at all to do with the lack or plethora of good fortune at work in our lives? Or is God's love, perhaps, something very different from what we think we know?
Divine love may be so large it cannot see us.
Or it may be so infinitely tiny that it works on a level where it directs us like an unknown substance buried in our blood.
Or it may be transparent, an invisible screen, a filter through which we see and hear all that is created. ...
Like you, I poise alertly and open my senses to try to read the air, the clouds, the sun's slant, the little movements of the animals, all in the hope I will learn the secret of whether I am loved.