This is a spoiler alert! When I recently finished Louise Erdrich’s book The Night Watchman, I was rendered speechless by one of the subplots, not the main plot, of this engaging novel. One of the focal characters, Patrice (Pixie) is the breadwinner for her indigenous Chippewa family.
She is the only one in the family who has a job, and she works at a jewel factory performing very delicate operations. Her father is broken from the many onslaughts of reservation life, and he has become an abusive alcoholic who is often gone away from the family. No one looks forward to his infrequent returns, especially their mother because of what they all must endure when he is at home.
Her older sister, Vera, has moved away to the Big City but is now considered to be missing and the family is deeply concerned about her. Pixie puts her job on the line as she borrows days from her co-workers to venture into the Big City to look for her sister. She is tricked at the train station and ends up in a would-be perilous situation herself. She temporarily works at a bar swimming in a fish-like tank with dyed water for the customers’ entertainment.
One of their friends, a boxer named Wood Mountain, senses that she could be in danger, and he goes to the city to make sure that she is okay. No one will tell them where Vera is at that time, but they do end up bringing back Vera’s infant son after Pixie makes her get-away from the bar.
The family embraces the baby and all cuddle and nurture him as Pixie returns to her regular job. She eventually begins to fall in love with Wood Mountain and finally gives into him as her first lover. Overtime, Vera surfaces and she has been detained against her will and trafficked on a ship. When she is used and nearly dead, they discard her on the side of a road in Duluth and fortunately a medic finds and helps her.
Vera makes it back home, but she is damaged both physically and spiritually. They are happy to see her and she falls back into the embraces of the family. By, then, Wood Mountain is extremely attached to the child and often frequents the family home. And then, it happens.
Pixie returns home from work one day and notices the rhythm between Vera and Wood Mountain as tries to say he loves them both. But Pixie, says, “No. It is not going to happen like that!” Instead, she agrees to help fix up a small house on the property for Vera, Wood Mountain, and the baby Thomas Achilles.
I see Pixie going on to greater heights like on to college or choosing some new path for herself. She has the strength of character to do so, but this part rendered me speechless. How much can one give? And how much can one accept from another’s labors? It reminded me of the movie The Valley of the Dolls, when Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) walked away with a wrangled, wildly beating heart but definitely moving on!
July 28, 2021