A quiet, intimate novel about flawed children who become flawed adults, and the role of parents in that transition. The Beet Queen follows a single family across several decades, beginning with child siblings Mary and Karl. Abandoned by their mother, Karl goes to an orphanage while Mary lives with her aunt, uncle, and cousin Sita. Over the course of the book (which periodically switches between points of view), we watch Mary, Karl, and Sita grow up, along with other characters from their youth.
Erdrich here writes imperfect children and characters who, at their cores, don’t change. There’s something refreshingly honest about it. Mary is a stubborn little girl, and Erdrich reveals many glints of that little girl in her adult characterization. Mary and Sita’s relationship diverges in childhood when Mary “steals” Sita’s friend Celestine, and this one event reverberates through the cousins’ relationship for the remainder of the book. Karl offers some variation since his childhood is essentially unknown, but once he re-appears as a philandering seducer, his core personality is woven into the family dynamic as well. By covering such a long span of time with the novel, Erdrich teases out the underlying net of familial relationships; which elements remain constant, which moments and characteristics come to be defining, and which slip away.
The 214 in 2014 series chronicles every book I read in 2014. Each review contains exactly 214 words, because 2014 words is too long and 2014 characters is too dang short. And yes, this review is backlogged from 2014.
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