Letters

Letters 08-31-2015

Inalienable Rights This is a response to the “No More State Theatre” in your August 24th edition. I think I will not be the only response to this pathetic and narrow-minded letter that seems rather out of place in the northern Michigan that I know. To think we will not be getting your 25 cents for the movie you refused to see, but more importantly we will be without your “two cents” on your thoughts of a marriage at the State Theatre...

Enthusiastically Democratic Since I was one of the approximately 160 people present at when Senator Debbie Stabenow spoke on August 14 in Charlevoix, I was surprised to read in a letter to Northern Express that there was a “rather muted” response to Debbie’s announcement that she has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president...

Not Hurting I surely think the State Theatre will survive not having the homophobic presence of Colleen Smith and her family attend any matinees. I think “Ms.” Smith might also want to make sure that any medical personnel, bank staff, grocery store staff, waiters and/or waitress, etc. are not homosexual before accepting any service or product from them...

Stay Home I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I read the letter of the extremely homophobic, “disgusted” writer. She now refuses to patronize the State Theatre because she evidently feels that its confines have been poisoned by the gay wedding ceremony held there...

Keep Away In response to Colleen Smith of Cadillac who refused to bring her family to the State Theatre because there was a gay wedding there: Keep your 25 cents and your family out of Traverse City...

Celebrating Moore And A Theatre I was 10 years old when I had the privilege to see my first film at the State Theatre. I will never forget that experience. The screen was almost the size of my bedroom I shared with my older sister. The bursting sounds made me believe I was part of the film...

Outdated Thinking This letter is in response to Colleen Smith. She made public her choice to no longer go to the State Theater due to the fact that “some homosexuals” got married there. I’m not outraged by her choice; we don’t need any more hateful, self-righteous bigots in our town. She can keep her 25 cents...

Mackinac Pipeline Must Be Shut Down Crude oil flowing through Enbridge’s 60-yearold pipeline beneath the Mackinac Straits and the largest collection of fresh water on the planet should be a serious concern for every resident of the USA and Canada. Enbridge has a very “accident” prone track record...

Your Rights To Colleen, who wrote about the State Theatre: Let me thank you for sharing your views; I think most of us are well in support of the first amendment, because as you know- it gives everyone the opportunity to express their opinions. I also wanted to thank Northern Express for not shutting down these types of letters right at the source but rather giving the community a platform for education...

No Role Model [Fascinating Person from last week’s issue] Jada quoted: “I want to be a role model for girls who are interested in being in the outdoors.” I enjoy being in the outdoors, but I don’t want to kill animals for trophy...

Home · Articles · News · Books · The Master Butcher‘s Singing...
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The Master Butcher‘s Singing Club is a Soaring American Aria

Nancy Sundstrom - March 27th, 2003
Louise Erdrich‘s mixed German-American, French, and Ojibwe Indian heritage has played an important role in the eight other novels she has written, but never before has it come as sharply into focus as it has in her latest effort, an unforgettable epic entitled “The Master Butchers Singing Club.“
Erdrich is a North Dakota native and a mixed blood enrolled in the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe, whose previous works include the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning “Love Medicine,“ and the National Book Award finalist “The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse.“
She is a writer of extraordinary range and emotional depth who is seemingly unafraid of tackling the most challenging and wrenching of situations and characters, but “The Master Butchers Singing Club“ is undoubtedly her most ambitious and resonant work to date.
A story of the Old World meeting the New set against the backdrop of the bleak plains of North Dakota after WWI, Erdrich builds her tale around this question: What happens when a trained killer discovers that his true vocation is love? At the book’s onset, soldier Fidelis Waldvogel has just returned to his quiet German village home after surviving the war, and he has two orders of business on his agenda - to dutifully marry Eva, the pregnant widow of his best friend who was killed in action, and to start a new life in America.
In the first chapter, “The Last Link,“ we meet Fidelis and settle, along with him, into his world. Note Erdrich’s lyrical attention to detail as she describes his adjustment to civilian life:

“Fidelis walked home from the great war in twelve days and slept thirty-eight hours once he crawled into his childhood bed. When he woke in Germany in late November of the year 1918, he was only a few centimeters away from becoming French on Clemenceau and Wilson‘s redrawn map, a fact that mattered nothing compared to what there might be to eat. He pushed aside the white eiderdown that his mother had aired and restuffed every spring since he was six years old. Although she had tried with repeated scrubbings to remove from its cover the stains of a bloody nose he‘d suffered at thirteen, the faint spot was still there, faded to a pale tea-brown and shaped like a jagged nest. He smelled food cooking -- just a paltry steam but enough to inspire optimism. Potatoes maybe. A bit of soft cheese. An egg? He hoped for an egg. The bed was commodious, soft, and after his many strange and miserable beds of the past three years, it was of such perfect comfort that he‘d shuddered when first lying down. Fidelis had fallen asleep to the sound of his mother‘s quiet, full, joyous weeping. He thought he still heard her now, but it was the sunlight. The light pouring through the curtains made a liquid sound, he thought, an emotional and female sound as it moved across the ivory wall.
After a while he decided that he heard the light because he was clean. Disorientingly clean. Two nights ago, before he‘d entered the house, he begged to bathe in a washtub out in the tiny roofed courtyard, beneath the grape arbor. They built a fire to warm the water. His sister, Maria Theresa, picked the lice from his hair and his father brought fresh clothing. In order to endure all that the war necessitated, including his own filth, Fidelis had shut down his senses. As he opened to the world again, everything around him was distressingly intense and all things were possessed of feeling, alive, as in a powerful dream.
Quietness reverberated in his head. Ordinary sounds, people outside in the streets, seemed marvelous as the chatter of rare monkeys. A thrill of delight crashed through him. Even to put on his clean and vermin-free clothing was a task so full of meaning that the fastening of his grandfather‘s gold boar‘s-head cuff-links nearly made him weep. Breathing low, he collected himself, and stilled his tears with the power of his quietness. Ever since he was a child, when sorrow had come down upon him, he‘d breathed lightly and gone motionless. As a young soldier, he‘d known from the first that in his talent for stillness lay the key to his survival. It had carried him through the war as a pitifully green recruit of whom it was soon discovered that, from a sniping post, he could drill a man‘s eye at 100 meters and make three of five shots. Now that he was home, he understood, he must still be vigilant. Memories would creep up on him, emotions sabotage his thinking brain. To come alive after dying to himself was dangerous. There was far too much to feel, so he must seek, he thought, only shallow sensations. Now he tried to adjust. He must slowly awaken even to this childhood room he knew so well.“

Fidelis and Eva sets sail for America armed with about 35 cents, a suitcase full of sausages and a master butcher‘s precious set of knives that were owned by his father. They settle in Argus, North Dakota (a fictional town Erdrich readers will recognize from other novels), where Fidelis establishes an Old World meat shop and builds a home for his family. But all is not routine. He sets up a singing club whose members include the best voices in town, and more importantly, has the destiny of his life changed when he meets Delphine Watzka, who runs a struggling vaudeville show with her partner Cyprian Lazarre, a homosexual Ojibwa.
Delphine has recently returned to Argus to care for Roy, her alcoholic father. Roy‘s drinking is the least of his problems, especially with the local sheriff intent on learning how the Chavers family came to perish in Roy‘s basement. Delphine takes a job at Fidelis and Eva’s butcher shop, making a friend for life in Eva, with whom she feels a sense of attraction, and discovering the love of her life in Fidelis.
And that’s just for starters. To reveal much more would be an incredible disservice to this richly sculpted work. Erdrich deftly weaves together the many strands of character, subplot, and theme that she introduces, and her storytelling rarely falters. More than 35 years of life in a small prairie town give her the opportunity to work with both broad and subtle brush strokes on a large canvas, and she makes the most of every opportunity, be it death, love, accidents, illness, redemption, crime, or passion, and the creation of both Fidelis and Delphine is a thing of rare beauty. This is a sweeping American saga in every regard, from a writer quite possibly working at the height of her considerable ability.

 
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