Review: Dove Creek by Paula Coomer

Be prepared to learn a lot when you read Paula Marie Coomer’s new novel, Dove Creek–about Indian reservations, public health systems, abortion, philosophy, disease–but mostly you’ll get to know an incredibly complex character named Patricia Faye.  She is the protagonist of Dove Creek, but the book delves so deeply into her mind and soul that the experience of reading her is more like inhabiting her skin, sorting through her memories along with her.

And Dove Creek is a novel of memories.  The construction of the book is unlike any I’ve ever read.  The present action is contained in a camping trip that Patricia decides to take alone, and as she camps she sifts through the events of her life, mainly focusing on her time as a nurse on the Nez Perce and Coeur d’Alene reservations.  This gives the narration a sort of swirling energy, moving from one memory to the next, not always chronologically, but always in a way that makes sense.  Time jumps forward and back, and sometimes seems to fold in on itself, but the emotional threads that run through the book never seem to tangle.   The book is broken into seven parts, to mirror the seven directions Patricia learns about as she begins her life on the reservation, plus an epilogue that, while interesting, feels a little superfluous.  There are lots of little sections throughout, separated by ornamentation.  The book moves at a nice clip, and while there are lots of appropriate places to rest a bookmark, I never wanted to stop reading for long.

Dove Creek is not just a book about a character; it’s a book about a place.  While there are various settings, Dove Creek shares information about an area of the world that is seldom written about, through a set of the most compassionate eyes.  Lapwai, Lewiston, The Palouse–all are brought to live by Paula Coomer’s pen, through description and the characters she creates.  The book has an enormous supporting cast, including Patricia’s family, coworkers, and patients.  Each of these feels supremely real, regardless of how many lines they are allotted.  They are a good portion of what gives the book its humanity and its depth.

Paula Coomer will be reading from Dove Creek at BookPeople in Moscow, Idaho, on January 22 and at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane on January 26.  Both readings will run from 7-9 pm.  If you’re in the area, be sure to come out and hear Paula read from her wonderfully wise new novel.

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