Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich

Three decades in a little town in North Dakota.

Fidelis Waldfogel, master butcher, survivor of Germany’s WWI defeat, marries his dead best friend’s girl, cooks up a suitcase’s worth of sausages and emigrates to North Dakota.  He establishes a meat shop, raises four sons with his wife Eva, all the while maintaining an uneasy relationship with town native, half-wild Delphine, who works in the shop and is Eva’s best friend.  Meanwhile, the many town eccentrics, including Delphine’s alcoholic father Roy, interact, creating a tapestry of inventive  almost folkloric tales.  The town members persevere through the tough times of the Depression and then World War II.

What a storyteller.  The novel was almost 400 pages but didn’t feel long at all.  I was completely entranced, eager to find out what happened next.  (Even though what happened next was, for the most part, pretty quotidian, just like real life.)  The novel was chockablock full of crazily detailed anecdotes.  The new young immigrant holding extended for hours his suitcase of sausages to raise money for a train ticket further west, Delphine balancing a guy and six chairs on her stomach, a little boy trapped beneath a mountain of dirt, the town hobo suddenly finding the funds to open up a bric-a-brac shop.  The stories kept coming, yet they only helped fuel the momentum of the novel.  Also, they were funny in a deadpan way.

There are also some beautifully written scenes, scenes purely celebrating the joy of life.  I loved the bit with Eva and Delphine drinking beer and pouring some out for the slugs in the garden.  Finally, the story barely touches on the singing club and I think that title was nothing more than a good joke.

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