The Master Butchers Singing Club, Louise Erdrich, HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2003, 388 pp
Other than her Young Adult novel, Birchbark House, I have not read Erdrich before. She seemed to get mixed reviews on this novel, so I was happy to find that it is wonderful. Stellar storytelling, characters whom I now feel I have actually known, meticulous description that was never boring. This book shines in my memory, five days after finishing it, as another of the best reading experiences of the year.
The main characters are Fidelis, the butcher and Delphine, a young motherless woman. The story opens with Fidelis' return from WWI to his German village and I was at once fascinated by this man and the writer's voice.
In the second chapter, in a distinctly different voice, Erdrich introduces Delphine. She is quirky, strong, lonely as hell and nobody's fool except that she has an impossibly soft spot for her drunken father.
Fidelis emigrates to North Dakota, becomes his town's master butcher, starts the singing club and we are off. The town has immigrants, Native Americans and a grisly triple murder mystery. The people survive postwar life, the Depression and the second World War. The novel turns out to be Delphine's story and she is a completely admirable and lovable heroine. For all the grit, violence, blood and sorrow in the story, Erdrich managed to make me feel good about mankind.