Since she had known Eva Waldvogel, and also traveled here and there with Cyprian, she had started to understand how a woman’s attention could succeed in making sense of man’s blind chaos, and yet women needed their own wildness. It was here. All ran riot. The garden and weedy yard would wax fuller until it turned into a jungle of unhitched vines and rusty birdbaths made of ham tins. Eva’s dog, the white shepherd, Schatzie, dug up old bones the former dog had buried and refused to rebury them. It would be awful, Delphine felt, when the leaves withered in the fall, to see the litter of femurs and clavicles, the knobs and knuckles. As if the scattered dead, rising to meet the Judgment, had to change and swap their parts to fit. -from The Master Butchers Singing Club, page 109-
Fidelis Waldvogel manages to survive the horrors of World War I, then returns to his German village and marries Eva – the pregnant widow of his best friend who was killed in action. The newly married couple set out for America and end up in Argus, North Dakota, where Fidelis opens his butcher business.
Delphine Watzka returns home to Argus, North Dakota with her boyfriend, Cyprian after years of performing as a traveling act. There she discovers her alcoholic father and the bodies of a man, woman and child in his basement.
The lives of these two characters merge when Delphine and Eva meet. The two forge an instant friendship and become inseparable.
Louise Erdrich’s rich novel about a German immigrant and his family is tender, thoughtful, funny, and deeply emotional. As with all Erdrich novels, there are many sharply developed, often quirky, characters. Erdrich never rushes the tempo of her story, carefully setting her scenes and building the relationships between the characters.
Fidelis is a complex man with simple needs. Delphine mourns the mother she has never known and longs for a deeper relationship with a man. Both characters take center stage without diminishing the impact of the other, more secondary characters.
This book is, at its heart, a family saga with a bit of a mystery at its center. Erdrich is exceptionally talented and able to make all the pieces fit, integrating the characters into the community they inhabit and providing a deep understanding of life in twentieth century, small town America.
I have yet to read an Erdrich novel I have not loved and The Master Butcher’s Singing Club is no exception. Erdrich writes with a mix of poignancy and humor, meticulous detail, and vivid imagery. I did not want this book to ever end.
Readers who love historical family sagas and literary novels will embrace this book.