This novel is the second in Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine series. There are eight novels in the series and one of my reading goals for 2021 is to read all of them. It’s already June and I’ve only read two – I’d better get a move on. I enjoyed this novel as much as I did the first one, Love Medicine.
The Beet Queen is set in the same universe, with at least two characters who also appear in the first novel (Eli Kashpaw, a minor character in this novel, and Dot Adare). The novel tells the stories of the major characters from the 1930s until the early 1970s. You could say that there’s a trio of women at the heart of the novel, Mary Adare, Sita Kozka, and Celestine James. Mary and Sita are cousins, Celestine is their friend. The reader sees them from their own and other’s perspectives (this is also the case for other characters – the cast is again quite large, involving at least three families).
The novel starts out with the death of “Mr. Ober” with whom Adelaide Adare lives as his mistress. They have three children, Karl, Mary and Jude (who is born after Mr. Ober’s death). When Mr. Ober dies in a freak accident, Adelaide and her children lose their home and their provider. They try to keep their heads above water by selling their valuables, but that doesn’t work for long. Adelaide is unable to cope and weirdly leaves her children at a fairground. She flies off with a pilot, Omar, who’s giving rides in his small aeroplane. The baby is kidnapped by a young man who wants him for his wife, as they recently lost their baby. Mary and Karl are left behind and decide to find their aunt Fritzie, Adelaide’s sister. They ride on a freight train as hitchhikers to the town where Fritzie lives, but before they get to her house, Karl and Mary are separated.
Karl returns to the train and lives with various people for a time until he finally ends up in a Catholic school for orphans. Later he turns into an itinerant salesman. He has affairs with lots of people, both women and men.
Mary is taken in by her aunt and uncle who own a butcher’s shop. She makes herself indispensable and eventually takes over the shop. Her cousin Sita is jealous of Mary (although she is not interested in the shop). She introduces Mary to Celestine James, her best friend, and is then jealous again, when the two also become friends.
The novel is episodic, jumping in chronological order from one character’s story to the next. Their lives are sometimes mundane, sometimes comic, sometimes tragic. Later in the novel, Celestine has a short affair and marriage with Karl (who, however, soon departs again) and has a daughter, Wallacette “Dot” Adare. Wallacette is named after Wallace Pfef, who saved Celestine’s life and helped with the birth during a snowstorm. Wallace also had an affair with Karl. Soon Mary’s and Celestine’s as well as Wallace’s lives revolve around Dot, whom they spoil rotten (at least, from their perspective). We only get one chapter, the last one, from Dot’s point-of-view, which, however, gives us a much more sympathetic view of her character.
The novel again creates a web of people and circumstances. I think it’s funnier than I remember Love Medicine being. Especially the last section that deals with the Sugar Beet Festival organized by Wallace Pfef, who manipulates the votes for the Sugar Beet Queen so that Dot, who otherwise wouldn’t stand a chance, is selected. He thinks this will build her self-confidence (talk about good intentions…). It turns into a terribly embarrassing (though quite funny) failure and Dot’s chapter explains all the horrific and funny circumstances from her point-of-view, which is quite different from the other characters’ view of her. All the main characters come together for the festival; one of them doesn’t survive – darkly funny.
As I said, I really enjoyed the novel, on the same level as Love Medicine, they are both very good.
I wrote this post yesterday and finished the Word version (I always write my post ins Word first), but then never got around to posting. Work is currently totally stressful because everything is in panic mode as all sorts of things aren’t working. I spend half my days coming up with workarounds and analyzing issues with my colleagues and am then totally exhausted for the rest of my work hours (not to mention all the meetings the situation triggers).
My Partner is still at his place, trying to find out what to do about the optic fibre cable that his house is supposed to be hooked up to for improved internet access. The builders either turn up when he’s not home or say they will come around on a certain day and then never show up, and now apparently a new company is responsible, for which Partner hasn’t got any contact info (yet, hopefully). Now he’s trying to find someone responsible for the planning with local administration – good luck with that. He’s not here and I miss him. It also means that I have to do the cooking, grocery shopping and dog walks by myself in addition to work. Partner usually cooks on workdays and having to do it myself is a pain (though Mum helps). And yesterday I also had to clean up the basement room where the oil tank and furnace lives, as I got this year’s oil delivery today. I didn’t want the poor delivery guy to have to battle his way through lots of spider webs around the one window which is the entry point for the oil hose. I was finished with all that stuff by 9:00 p.m. yesterday but then couldn’t face any more time at my desk to post.
We’ve been having rather violent thunderstorms at night for the last couple of day. Mum and I left Bavaria for my place on Sunday morning, and luckily only had a bit of rain on the way. The storms and the rain have ended the heat wave and we are now back to a pleasant 20°C to 26°C for the next few days (as predicted, hope the prediction comes true). Much more to my taste, and better for Curious Dog too. Last week we went for our afternoon walk in the early evening when the sun had disappeared behind the hills on the horizon. It was much too hot earlier. I hope our place in Bavaria wasn’t too badly hit by the storms, but I guess if the roof had been blown off (or something else awful had happened) our neighbours would have called. It’s quite nerve-wracking watching the storm fronts on my weather app and wondering what’s happening in reality.
Keep safe, world.