Highlights from The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

Cover of The Night Watchman
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Highlights from this book

  • She slowed to pick her way through places where water was seeping up through the mats of dying grass. Rain tapping through the brilliant leaves the only sound. She stopped. The sense of something there, with her, all around her, swirling and seething with energy. How intimately the trees seized the earth. How exquisitely she was included. Patrice closed her eyes and felt a tug. Her spirit poured into the air like song. Wait! She opened her eyes and threw her weight into her cold feet. This must be how Gerald felt when he flew across the earth. Sometimes she frightened herself.

  • “Go to the not-police. Sorry to put it this way. She might have got into trouble. So, what I'm saying is, go to the scum.?” “Oh, well, okay, but I don't know. How do I find the scum?” “Rises to the top. Just look around. Find the questionable people who are in charge of things.”

  • “Let’s put the seal on the promise,” she whispered, and held his face between her hands. He put his hands on her hands and it was like they were both holding him together. Then he dropped his hands and went to her.

  • They both started laughing in that desperate high-pitched way people laugh when their hearts are broken.

  • You cannot feel time grind against you. Time is nothing but everything, not the seconds, minutes, hours, days, years. Yet this substanceless substance, this bending and shaping, this warp-ing, this is the way we understand our world. Zhaanat was lying on her daughter's bed, in a slat of cool fall sunshine, the exhausted baby in her arms. They were drifting in frictionless eternal motion when Patrice entered, slipped out of her shoes. She took her hat off, lay down beside them, and opened her blue coat like a wing.

  • Sometimes he found small ocean shells while working in the fields. Some were whorled; others were tiny grooved scallops. He drilled holes in them and hung them from the lengths of sinew. “Barnes was saying there used to be an ocean here,” he said to Thomas. “From the endless way-back times.” “Think of it. Vera's baby will be playing with these little things from the bottom of the sea that was here. Who could have known?” “We are connected to the way-back people, here, in so many ways. Maybe a way-back person touched these shells. Maybe the little creatures in them disintegrated into the dirt. Maybe some tiny piece from that creature is inside us now. We can't know these things.”

  • Things started going wrong, as far as Zhaanat was concerned, when places everywhere were named for people—political figures, priests, explorers and not for the real things that happened in these places—the dreaming, the eating, the death, the appearance of animals. This confusion of the chimookomaanag between the timelessness of the earth and the short span here of mortals was typical of their arrogance. But it seemed to Zhaanat that this behavior had caused a rift in the life of places. The animals didn't come around to these locations stained by the names of humans. Plants, also, had begun to grow fitfully. The most delicate of her plant medicines were even dying out altogether, or perhaps they had torn themselves up by the roots to drag their fruits and leaves to secret spots where even Zhaanat couldn't find them. And now even these half ruined places that bore the names of saints and homestead people and priests, these places were going to be taken. In her experience, once these people talked of taking land it was as good as gone.

  • He’d be in danger, she thought. I do things perfectly when enraged.

  • Together they drank the icy birch water, which entered them the way life entered the trees, causing buds to swell along the branches. Patrice leaned to one side and put her ear to the trunk of a birch tree. She could hear the humming rush of the tree drinking from the earth. She closed her eyes, went through the bark like water, and was sucked up off the bud tips into a cloud. She looked down at herself and her mother, sitting by a small fire in the spring woods. Zhaanat tipped her head back and smiled. She gestured at her daughter to come back, the way she had when as a child Patrice strayed. “Ambe bi-izhaan omaa akiing minawa,” she said, and Patrice returned.