Escher, Erdrich and what we can see

Posted on February 22, 2011


Early this morning we bundled up and made our way across the road to pull the newspaper from its green holder under the mailbox.  The sun was just above the drumlins, filling the air with pearly light.  Tiny crystals stuck by their edges to the mailbox and the car—butterflies and dragonflies and miniature spaceships about to take off.  

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It always astonishes me when snowflakes light on a surface like that, singular, instead of heaping up in fluffy piles for me to sweep away.  It delights me when I see butterflies and spaceships instead of a dusting of snow on the mailbox.  Back inside, I had my coffee and started work on a piece about visual puzzles, which led me to Escher, which led me to dig out this particular puzzle.  I can’t remember where it came from but I like it a lot.

And that led me to Louise Erdrich, or at least to this cover.

Louise Erdrich is one of my favorite writers.  Nevertheless, it has taken me several years to read The Plague of Doves.  Perhaps it was the first lines:

The gun jammed on the last shot and the baby stood holding the crib rail, eyes wild, bawling.  The man sat down in an upholstered chair and began taking his gun apart to see why it wouldn’t fire.

That was enough.  On the shelf it went, waiting there, like a jammed gun.  A lot of books in my collection wait, sometimes for years.  One day you just get ready to read a book, and then you do it, far into the winter night, stopping only to feed the woodstove and rearrange the dogs around you. 

It’s a fine novel, great swathes of it every bit as hard to read as you might guess from the excerpt.  It is also lyrical and funny and moving and warm—full of the completely irrational ways that people find, in spite of everything, to love each other.  (One of the narrators says of the denizens of Pluto, North Dakota, We can’t seem to keep our hands off one another, it is true, and every attempt to foil our lusts through laws and religious dictums seems bound instead to excite transgression.)  Erdrich braids the voices of all her storytellers into a river that winds through the land and its history and our memories and the way we have of living our way into something resembling forgiveness.  I’m glad I was finally ready to see my way into it.