Well it was God, wasn’t it, Delphine’s thoughts went on stubbornly, who made time and created the end of everything? Tell me this, Delphine wanted to say to her new friend, why are we given the curse of imagining eternity when we know we can’t experience it, when we ourselves are so finite?
This is the story of two very different families and how they collide. Firstly, the Waldvogels – from Germany. Fidelis Waldvogel was a former sniper for the Germans in WWI, and returns home to marry his dead best friend’s pregnant fiancee, Eva. He then moves to the United States and becomes a master butcher. His wife soon joins him, along with their four sons: Franz, Markus, Emil and Erich.
Delphine is the daughter of a drunk and a mysterious missing woman named Minnie. We meet her as she is out on the road, travelling with a professional “balancer” named Cyprian – a gay Ojibwe Indian who loves Delphine as a sister and wants her permanently in his life. Delphine’s father, Roy, is the Argus town drunk and Delphine returns to take care of him – only to find something horrifying down in the family basement. She also takes a job at the Waldvogel Butcher shop, and has her life forever altered upon meeting Eva, Fidelis, and Markus.
These families dance around each other, bringing others in and out of their orbits, influencing each other’s thoughts and beliefs with their own actions and reactions to events as they come along – whether death, near-death experiences – murders, jobs, and uncomfortable family secrets. The stories of these families are forever intertwined, as the two youngest Waldvogel boys are sent back to Germany with their embittered aunt and then WWII breaks out. We watch Franz fall in love, and we watch as Delphine must make decisions harder than she likes in order to capture her own happiness and meaning in her life.
From the west, later and later every night, flame reflected up into the bursting clouds. Skeins of fire over the vast black fields.
This is a book that speaks intelligently and beautifully about our struggles with death and what comes before it – the living towards death: death in its suddenness, and in its ability to drag itself slowly towards you. It looks at how this affects those who love you, and even you yourself and what the inevitability of death does to one who is alive.
The Master Butcher’s Singing Club was published by Louise Erdrich in 2005.