Yeah, those damn geese. Nector Kashpaw never stood a chance. When he meets Marie, he’s on his way to see Lulu, his mind transfixed by desire:
I think of her little wet tongue and I have to stop then and there, in my tracks, at the taste that floods into my mouth. She is a tart berry full of juice, and I know she is mine. I cannot wait for the night to start. She will be waiting in the bush.
In fact, Nector’s saving up for a “French-style wedding band” that he plans to slip onto Lulu’s finger. (God help him.) That’s why he stops Marie in the first place. He sees the monogrammed pillowcase wrapped around her hand, injured in her battle with the sadistic Sister Leopolda during her brief stay at the convent, and thinks that she’s stolen it. Maybe the nuns will give him a reward, and he can get that ring onto Lulu’s finger before she slips away from him. He’s thinking about Lulu when he grabs Marie’s wrist, which I think we can agree is probably a bad way to start a marriage.
So how does he end up with this “skinny white girl,” this “dirty Lazarre”? Even after it happens, he can’t really say.
We sit alone. The sun falls down the side of the world and the hill goes dark. Her hand grows thick and fevered, heavy in my own, and I don’t want her, but I want her, and I cannot let go.
Like David, I find this scene really funny, especially the way that those geese tied to his wrists keep seizing control of the action. When Nector pins Marie to the ground, there are the geese, flapping wildly around them:
The geese are to my advantage now; their weight on my arms helps pin her; their dead wings flap around us; their necks loll, and their black eyes stare, frozen. But Marie is not the kind of girl to act frightened of a few dead geese.
It’s almost as if we’ve wandered into “Leda and the Swan,” only it’s the man who gets caught up, laid in that white rush, and so mastered by the brute blood. Dead, the geese keep pulling him down onto Marie, but his heart will always keep flying away toward Lulu.
Later, in the section entitled “Love Medicine,” Nector’s grandson, Lipsha Morrisey, will try to solve the love triangle that begins when Nector runs into Marie Lazarre while carrying those geese into town. Geese, Lipsha realizes, mate for life, so all he has to do is get some goose hearts and feed one to Nector and the other to Marie. Only Lipsha is a terrible shot, so when he goes hunting for a pair of geese, he misses, then ends up going to the grocery store to buy a pair of frozen turkey hearts. Needless to say, his love medicine goes disastrously wrong, but this strange moment of tragicomedy reveals one of the ways that Erdrich has laced this book of stories together into a single narrative.
In his last post, David quoted the passage describing Nanapush’s love medicine in the section entitled “The Island,” where he notes that his secret is making love on Indian time, paying no attention to the clocks that rule the lives of the boys who went off to white school. (Nector is one of those boys, of course, so he’s taken by surprise when those geese drag him off the road that leads toward Lulu and leave him panting in Marie’s arms. But his soul is too divided for his heart ever to be content with one woman, as we’ll see in later sections.) In a sense, that passage could also serve as a metaphor for Erdrich’s narrative style. She’s in no hurry to make these connections, allowing her reader to feel what it’s like to “go on Indian time,” instead of driving her narrative toward its conclusion as we’ve come to expect from most novels.
So the book turns away, leaps across 14 years to show us what Marie and Nector have become by 1948, when June Morrisey first appears at their door, orphaned when her mother died out in the woods, leaving her to survive by eating pine sap. Marie is frightened by how strongly she feels for this child and the wildness within her. She raises her with the same fierce determination that she brings to keeping Nector away from liquor until she can make him into a leader on the reservation. But in both cases, the wildness within them is too powerful to be controlled: June runs off to live with her Uncle Eli in the woods, while Nector slowly drifts away into gambling and his renewed affair with Lulu. In both “Beads” and the next chapter, “Lulu’s Boys,” which picks up the story again in 1957, we find these two strong-willed women struggling to hold their worlds together in houses crowded with children as men come and go. But their characters could not be more different. Marie speaks out of her growing silence:
I went down beneath his hands and lay quiet. I rolled with his current like a stone in the lake. He fell on my like a wave. But like a wave he washed away, leaving no sign he’d been there. I was smooth as before. I slept hard, and when I woke he was gone.
All day with the children, I felt a low grief I couldn’t name yet. Something inside me had shrunk and hardened in the deep.
Lulu admits nothing but desire. In the chapter entitled “Lulu’s Boys,” the first section since that opening description of June’s death not to be narrated in the first person, she appears ??? as she does through most of the book ??? as the object of male desire. The chapter opens on “the last day that Lulu Lamartine spent as Henry’s widow,” a phrase that indicates how desire both defines her and leaves her fundamentally unchanged. Her third husband, Henry Lamartine, died at a railroad crossing in an event that is defined at different times in the book as accident, fate, and suicide (over her affair with Nector Kashpaw). Seven years later, Henry’s brother has returned to claim the son he’d fathered while the earth still settled in Henry’s grave. Imagining the scene before his return, he’s tried to think of Lulu only as the boy’s mother:
He habitually blotted away her face and body, so that in his thoughts she was a doll of flour sacking with a curly black mop on her head. She was simply glad that he had come at last to take the son she had trouble providing for off her hands.
But as these men learn, neither Lulu nor Marie can be so easily relegated to their roles as wives and mothers. Their power lies in their defiance. Reading these sections, it becomes clear that much of the pleasure of this book lies in its portraits of these unruly women. Like Nector caught between Marie Lazarre’s fierceness and the flapping of those wild geese attached to his wrists, we can’t resist being swept away by their defiance and desire.