Thu Mar 22, 2012, 09:39 PM
Curmudgeoness (16,671 posts)
The Master Butchers Singing Club-Chapter 15-16-SPOILERS
This is the end. To all the people who have followed this story, may I make a suggestion? Do not finish reading this summary----pick up the book and read it the right way. Read it the way the author wrote it. Her writing matters. If you proceed past this point, I am afraid that this could ruin a lot for you. You will not forget this ending. I do not know if that would ruin a reading of the book---probably not. But you will know too much. I am so full of emotion right now. I cannot do this justice. For those of you who will not heed my warning (sigh), read on.
Chapter 15 – The Master Butchers Singing Club
It is 1954. Fidelis’s hometown, Ludwigsruhe, is preparing to unveil a monument to the victims of the bombing of the town. Fidelis and Delphine are there for a month-long visit. The master butchers from all over the area are preparing to sing for the ceremony, and Fidelis is among them. This had been meant as a long overdue honeymoon, but Fidelis had been having health problems on the ship. They did X-rays and found an enlarged liver and bad heart. So he had to slow down.
At the ceremony, Delphine was sitting beside Tante, who totally ignored her. Also there was Fidelis’s brother and his wife and grown children, and Erich and his new bride. Since Delphine did not understand German, she felt left out of everything, although people were very nice to her. There were speeches that she did not understand. Then the master butchers got up to sing. Delphine started to daydream, everything became unreal. Instead of seeing the men singing, she saw their mouths open and smoke and ash came from their mouths.
Something was knocking in her dream…impatient knocks. She woke beside Fidelis and realized she knew these sounds. Eva was coming for Fidelis. This was the same knocking she heard the night Eva died. She snuggled close and held him. She had written to Markus, telling him that his father was not very well and they should make sure he sees a doctor when he gets home.
They returned to the US, and in New York, waiting in line to enter, Fidelis was exhausted. He remembered his first time here, fresh from Germany with his suitcase. His heart had been hurt by Erich, who refused to acknowledge him in the woods. News of Franz’s injury put more of a burden on it. Hearing the news of Emil shredded his heart even more. He was so tired anymore, sleeping most of the time on the ship. He was standing in line, unsteady, feeling dizzy. He fell down onto his hands and knees, looking at the floor. He realized this was how the animals that he slaughtered died. Then Delphine’s face was in front of him, he was laying on the floor, he couldn’t move. Then Delphine’s face faded, the light dimmed, and the singing in his head stopped.
Chapter 16 – Step-and-a-Half
Step-and-a-Half was an old woman. She had become beautiful in her old age. She was still restless and plagued with insomnia, but did not have the ability to roam as she had all the rest of her life. She had walked to escape thoughts, and now she was often trapped with her reflections.
Before she had came to Argus, she had wandered all the roads of North Dakota, sleeping along the way in ditches or woods. But she found herself making it to Argus more frequently. She began to know all the people from what they threw away. It wasn’t the pretense that they showed in front of their house that she knew---she knew them from what they found worthless. The scraps told their own story. She knew that Gus Newhall was a bootlegger from the bottles in his trash. She knew the Bouchards often had fights where plates were thrown. She respected Pouty Mannheim for throwing away both socks when one frayed. Sometimes she found awful things….pet carcasses, ripped up love letters. She also found good things---books (although she didn’t read), toys that could be cleaned up. But the most spectacular thing she ever found was fished from the hole of Mrs. Shimek’s outhouse. This find defined her life. She remembered it vividly, even though it was over 40 years ago.
It was a cold October night. She was, as always walking. She was walking behind the Shimek house, a place she never stopped because there was nothing there, and she would have continued on except that she heard a sound---a pained animal sound from inside the outhouse. It continued, and she was just about ready to go in when Mrs. Shimek burst out. She went into the house and Step-and-a-Half was ready to leave when she thought she heard another sound from the outhouse. She went in and there was blood everywhere. Luckily, Mr. Shimek was lazy and had not dug a deep hole. She reached in, groping, and grabbed the heel of an infant. She bit off the umbilical cord, cleared the mouth, and blew in the infant’s face. She put the baby under her coat. There had been one cry from the infant before it had started to sink….watching Delphine grow up, she noted that this was the same margin by which she escaped dirty fates all her life.
She took the baby to the place she felt was a place it would be safe. She had gotten to know Roy Watzka, the bachelor farmer on the edge of town. He had fallen in love with her, professed that he wanted to marry her, he would buy her a ring and a cow and everything she wanted. But she would have to settle down and stop wandering.
So she headed to Roy’s place. As she was walking, the baby moved and cried, and she knew it would live. She woke Roy, told him to go milk the goat and heat up the stove. Her finds always interested him, but this one frightened him. “Holy Jesus, you’ve got a baby there, Minnie.” Minnie was a nickname he had given her.
He did as he was told, and when the baby was cleaned and fed with a rag dipped in the milk, he held it. They sat, quiet, rocking the baby. She was just staring and he wondered what she was thinking, but didn’t ask. He was afraid she was thinking that she had to walk. And that was true. He didn’t understand it---no one did.
But she had to walk, trying to outrun her thoughts. If she stopped, images flooded in on her. A baby still nursing on his killed mother. Gunfire cutting a little boy in half. Her father shot while he lay there, caught by surprise. She had to walk. But she would keep coming back to Argus. She would give Roy money in support of the child. She tried to help the child as she grew.
Now, she was in her little room behind the shop. She didn’t have the strength to travel. She relived all she had seen in Argus….Fidelis coming with what looked like an empty suitcase. The suitcase going back to Germany. The death of her friend Eva. Markus rescued from the hill. Franz flying into the clouds, then falling in love with Delphine’s little sister.
Step-and-a-Half pictured Delphine and her sister in their renovated plant shop, two old women. Sleep tugged at her. She was laying under a quilt she had made of scraps collected over all her years. She remembered the ghost dancers of her youth. She remembered all the songs she had heard over her life. She hummed in her sleep, and sank deep into her own tune to where butchers sing like angels.
In the acknowledgements, she says that the picture on the front of the book is of her grandfather, who had fought in the trenches on the German side in WWI. His sons served on the American side in WWII. The book is fiction, except for a few things which include her grandmother’s short stint as a human table in a vaudeville act.
I don’t even know what to say at this point. I am overwhelmed with so many feelings. I am numbed by this book, at least in the short term---right now. This is one of those few books that I will never forget. The way it was written was splendid. The end fell on me like an anvil. The story was so well woven together. Erdrich has always been an author that I have liked and enjoyed (except for Shadow Tag), but this is one of her best---at least that I have read so far. I will not stop at this one.
I love that this book is just a story of ordinary people. No one did incredible things. No one became incredibly wealthy. There were no heroes. Just life.
3 replies, 2100 views
Response to Curmudgeoness (Original post)
Fri Mar 23, 2012, 08:46 AM
Little Star (14,879 posts)
2. Knock me over with a feather...
Mazarine Shimek and Delphine Watzka are actually sisters. That Step-and-a-Half was quite the woman! And it also gives us insight to who Roy Watzka was in his heart. Step-and-a-Half is Minnie, wow.
Everyone is getting older or dying. Life goes on.
Good book Curmudgeoness! Thanks again for taking the time and effort to share. Good job and I had a great time!
Response to Little Star (Reply #2)
Fri Mar 23, 2012, 12:15 PM
Curmudgeoness (16,671 posts)
3. I enjoyed this too, however,
don't look for a repeat any time soon. This was work. I would have liked to have shared my feelings and opinions with others who were also reading the book, but it didn't work out that way---which is fine.
I am glad that "Minnie" was never known and that no one will ever know the truth, which was just too nasty to tolerate if it was known.
I am now moving on---started a book in the The Cat Who...series. I need something light and silly right now. The Master Butchers was awesome, but I feel drained.
I am glad that you enjoyed this, and thanks for sticking with me. You will enjoy this book so much more when you get around to really reading it.