Set in the frontiers of North Dakota, this novel describes the life of Father Damien Modeste who ministers to the Chippewa people over a period of 60 years. The comic and tragic stories of the town of Little No Horse are related from the viewpoint of this compassionate priest, who has a sad secret past of his own. The reader soon learns that Father Damien is in fact, Sister Cecilia from a convent in Wisconsin. Through a sequence of peculiar events, Sister Cecilia has been married to a farmer, widowed in a bank robbery, and nearly drowned in a flood. When she finds the body of the original Father Damien, drowned on his way to Little No Horse she decides to masquerade as a man and replace the dead priest. Now nearing the end of his life, Father Damien dreads the discovery of his physical identity, and imagines the undoing of all that he has accomplished.
What the Armchair Critics Thought:
The very first book read by the Armchair Critics was “The Beet Queen” by Louise Erdrich. It is interesting to return to North Dakota and some of the same characters. Opinions about this book were mixed. Several readers felt that it did not hold their attention and that the stories interspersed throughout interrupted the flow of the novel. There were so many characters to keep track of that it is easy to become confused. Some parts of the novel were extremely funny and enjoyable – others portrayed the characters in situations which made them very difficult to like. Generally we found that it paid off to keep ploughing through the first half of the book in order to enjoy the way Agnes’ life is resolved.