|3.5 stars out of 5|
When I first started reading The Master Butchers Singing Club, my initial response was “Not another war book!” as I am not a fan of war fiction. Both World Wars do feature in the book, but they do not overpower the story, for which I am very thankful.
I don’t think that I have ever before consciously encountered a book set in the period between the two World Wars and that is odd—it’s a very rich period of history to explore. The author’s style reminded me strongly of Canadian author Robertson Davies (a compliment coming from me, as I adore his Deptford series, which also deals with small town characters). Her characters are very unique and yet they are ordinary people, living ordinary lives in many ways. Alcoholics, orphans, poor people, butchers, singers, Native people, circus people, murderers, undertakers, pilots, children, all making their way through the world as best they can. Erdrich doesn’t make them flamboyantly odd, just the regular peculiar that one finds in small communities. It strikes me that this could have been a Canadian book—the northern U.S. shares many environmental and cultural threads with Canada, I think.
This is probably also the best depiction of a love triangle that I have ever encountered in literature. Several triangle relationships hinge on Fidelis, the master butcher. His wife Eva and her friend Delphine. His sister Tante and Delphine. Fidelis, Delphine and Cyprian. And yet, as his name would indicate, Fidelis is faithful to each of the women in his life. (view spoiler)
Another pseudo-Canadian theme in the novel is that of identity, a well-worn Canuck obsession. We get to watch Delphine struggle with her lack of knowledge about her origins, and see each of Fidelis’ sons forge lives for themselves and decide where their hearts lie.
So many underlying themes, well written, and thought provoking.