And you thought keeping track of the names and relationships in “War and Peace” was tough. Well, in that department at least, Tolstoy’s got nothing on Linda LeGarde Grover, whose new novel, “In the Night of Memory,” weaves a remarkable tapestry of one very extended Anishinaabe family at home in northern Minnesota, on the fictional Mozhay Point Reservation where Grover’s earlier novel, “The Road Back to Sweetgrass,” and her Flannery O’Connor Award-winning story collection “The Dance Boots” were grounded.
A simple for-instance: At the apex of the family tree, helpfully laid out at the book’s beginning, stands “Marguerite (Maggie) LaForce, family matriarch (died 1950) and daughter of Shigogoons (Artense) DuCharme and Half-Dime LaForce.”
The connections spread and multiply to a dizzying (and charming) degree, as in, “Loretta’s father, Albert Gallette, cousin to Louis Gallette and my mother Maggie LaForce’s second husband in the Indian way, which meant not through the Church; my father was Andre Robineau, Maggie’s first husband.”
At the center of the web of kinship and influence are two sisters, Rainfall Dawn (sometimes called Rain, sometimes Rainy) and Azure Sky (mostly Azure, sometimes Azh), whose mother, the aforementioned Loretta, turned them over to the county when she could no longer care for them.
“Loretta,” Azure tells us, “had told the social worker that she was going to the hospital for a while and would come get us when she got out. But she never showed up.”
And that is the last we know of Loretta, though through the testimony of aunties and cousins — and through the last, sad and luminous memory of her daughters — we learn that her girlhood was as troubled as her children’s and that she might be one of any number of Indian women who have slipped away. Azure and Rainy, meanwhile, are shuffled through foster homes, some downright horrible (Mrs. Kukonen, for instance, with a blow administered for a supposed blasphemy, permanently disfigures Rainy’s face), before Junior, a distant cousin, once smitten with Loretta, takes advantage of the Indian Child Welfare Act to bring the girls back into the fold of the Mozhay Point family.
The story is Azure and Rainy’s — Azure, the younger, always protecting her “big little sister,” who we know from the first is not quite right — but their place in the Anishinaabe constellation is what matters. At the sisters’ introduction to their large, complex family, at the sobriety powwow at the Coppertop (“the First Methodist Church at the top of the hill” in Duluth), Auntie Girlie holds their hands, “praying a small request to God, and who knows if He ever bothers with these little things or not: for five minutes, just five, to stand, to remain upright between the warmth and youth of the girls who, found, would link the generations before me to the generations after them.”
And Loretta, though lost, can still be seen dancing to the music of the Northern Lights in the little girls’ last night of memory.
Ellen Akins is a novelist and editor. She coaches writers through the Loft Literary Center.
In the Night of Memory
By: Linda LeGarde Grover.
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press, 211 pages, $22.95.
Events: 7 p.m. April 8, Northtown Library, 711 Anoka County Hwy. 10 Frontage Road, Blaine; 10 a.m. May 12, Wordplay festival, Mpls.