Monday, August 22, 2005

August Book Club: Master Butchers Singing Club

Yesterday evening was my last book club meeting for quite some time. I am in complete denial that part of moving to Boston and having a great adventure means leaving these treasures behind. I trust that they will continue to laugh and delve into great stories, which is reassuring. I feel good just knowing that they exist, truly.

I brought along a friend, the wondertastic Ms. L, to introduce her to the group and see if the chemistry is good. The molecules seemed to collide and create just enough heat to liven things up for all involved. It is all about random collisions.

The evening began with dinner: sausage, in homage to Fidelis, ratatouille, as a nod to Eva's lush garden, fresh bread and a wonderfuly herbed salad. The apple tart and vanilla ice cream nodded toward the immigrants growing roots in North Dakato. A feast, to be sure. We dug in and caught up and nearly choked as L. recounted the basic premise of The Aristocrats, a new documentary. A hoot at the dinner table.

After dinner we tucked into a lively discussion of The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdich. We had read The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by the same author as a group a while ago. This work immerses the reader into the intimate everyday details of life in Argus, read: small town, North Dakota. The events span the two world wars and in fact war and the violence lurking just below the routine of our daily lives seem to be linked here. Delphine never experienced a battle field, but she had seen horror and senseless death. Reckless death and reckless life balance and often our lives veer toward one or the other despite all good intentions to remain upright. Erdich reminds us in this quiet novel that it is the songs we sing and the rituals we observe before death that matter. When the songs end, we are dead.

Quotes and Memorable Language:

"Eva sipped her coffee. Today, her hair was bound back in a singular knot, the sides rolled in smooth twists, the knot itself in the shape of the figure eight, which Delphine knew was the ancient sign for eternity. Eva rose and turned away, walked across the green squares of linoleum to punch some risen dough and cover it with towels. As Delphine watched, into her head there popped a strange notion: the idea that perhaps strongly experienced moments, as when Eva turned and the sun met her hair and for that one instant the symbol blazed out, those particular moments were eternal. Those moments actually went somewhere. Into a file of moments that existed out of time's range and could not be pilfered by God.

Well, it was God, wasn't it, Delphine's thoughts went on stubbornly, who made time and created the end of everything? Tell me this, Delphine wanted to say to her new friend, why are we given the curse of imagining eternity when we know we can't experience it, when we ourselves are finite? She wanted to say it, but suddenly grew shy, and it was in that state of concentrated inattention that she met Eva's husband, Fidelis Waldvogel, master butcher."

"Life was a precious feat of daring, she saw, improbable as Cyprian balancing, strange as a feast of slugs."

"Who are you is a question with a long answer or a short answer."

"All around her, she felt how quickly things formed and were consumed. How there was so much blind feeling. It was going on beyond the wall of her sight, out of her control."

" 'There is plan, eine grosse Idee, bigger than the whole damn rules. And I always known it. Bigger than the candles in church. Bigger than confessionals, bigger than the Sacred Host.' She crossed herself. 'I do not know what it is. But big. Much more big.' " . . . . ' Our brains are just starting the greatness, to learn how to do things like flying. What next? You will see, and you will see that your mother is of the design. . . . Nothing can get rid of me because I am already included in the pattern.' '"

"Hey, I've got news for you. Everyone does everything to fill the emptiness."

"She lived with an invented force."

"A new story would develop. Delphine's story. Could she bear it?"

"She hadn't exactly feared the word contentment, but had always associated it with a vague sense of failure. To be discontented had always seemed much richer a thing."

"Time was an army marching like the butchers onto the stage. Time was a singing club whose music was smoke and ash."

"Some said the ghost dancers believed that those shirts would protect them against bullets, but Step-and-a-Half knew the dancers were neither stupid or deluded. They just knew something that is, from time to time, forgotten except by the wind. How close the dead are. One song away from the living."

"Our songs travel the earth. We sing to one another. Not a single note is ever lost and no song is original. They all come from the same place and go back to a time when only the stones howled. Step-and-a-Half hummed in her sleep and sank deeper into her own tune, a junker's piled of tattered courting verse and hunter's wisdom adn the utterances of itinerants or words that sprang from a bit of grass or a scrap of cloud or a prophetic pig's knuckle, in a world where butchers sing like angels."

For more information about Erdich and her newest novel The Painted Drum, visit her website.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Something tells me Ms. L enjoyed herself immensely. I heard through a reliable source that falling asleep that night was a chore, so enrapt was she at the night's events, in awe, nearly tearful once she was alone. I also hear she looks forward to the next meeting with much anticipation.
She thanks you wholeheartedly for the title "friend" and for introducing her to such amazing women. With many blessings to you--T :)