The Antelope Wife

by Louise Erdrich

Book list In reviewing Tales of Burning Love (1996), we observed that "the power of narrative and the salvation of love have always been Erdrich's quintessential themes." Those themes remain crucial to her latest novel, but here they only sporadically shine through a cloudy sky: "History is grief and no passion is complete without its jealous backdrop." In her characteristically swirling narrative style, Erdrich tells the story of two intertwined Ojibwa families, the Roys and the Shawanos, and the fiery love that scars their souls and inhibits their freedom. We hear many voices in these overlapping and interconnected stories, jumping in time and place from a cavalryman who bayonets an Indian woman and then saves an infant girl to a reservation dog who avoids the soup pot and becomes a canine Greek chorus, but the axis around which the entire cast rotates is an event, not a person: when a smooth-talking trader abducts (or maybe just entices) a beguilingly beautiful woman from a powwow and takes her with him to Minneapolis, a tremor is felt on the mythic seismograph, echoing the past and foreshadowing the future. Some readers may have difficulty with the narrative jumps and the rich overlay of magic realism, but for those willing to slowly immerse themselves in this nonlinear world as one soaks in a hot bath, the rewards are many. Erdrich's image-rich prose seduces the reader just as her trader lures his Antelope Wife and as the other lovers across generations forge their connections ("His low, vibrant voice sank down the front of Mary's dress"). And while it is those passionate connections that again provide salvation for Erdrich's storm-tossed characters, we feel equally the power of connections to constrain, to keep Antelope Wife from stretching the horizon. --Bill Ott

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Library Journal Erdrich suffuses Minneapolis with Native American spirit.

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Publishers Weekly "Family stories repeat themselves in patterns and waves, generation to generation, across blood and time." Erdrich (Love Medicine, etc.) embroiders this theme in a sensuous novel that brings her back to the material she knows best, the emotionally dislocated lives of Native Americans who try to adhere to the tribal ways while yielding to the lure of the general culture. In a beautifully articulated tale of intertwined relationships among succeeding generations, she tells the story of the Roy and the Shawano families and their "colliding histories and destinies." The narrative begins like a fever dream with a U.S. cavalry attack on an Ojibwa village, the death of an old woman who utters a fateful word, the inadvertent kidnapping of a baby and a mother's heartbreaking quest. The descendants of the white soldier who takes the baby and of the bereaved Ojibwa mother are connected by a potent mix of tragedy, farce and mystical revelation. As time passes, there is another kidnapping, the death of a child and a suicide. Fates are determined by a necklace of blue beads, a length of sweetheart calico and a recipe for blitzkuchen. Though the saga is animated by obsessional love, mysterious disappearances, mythic legends and personal frailties, Erdrich also works in a comic vein. There's a dog who tells dirty jokes and a naked wife whose anniversary surprise has an audience. Throughout, Erdrich emphasizes the paradoxes of everyday life: braided grandmas who follow traditional ways and speak the old language also wear eyeliner and sneakers. In each generation, men and women are bewitched by love, lust and longing; they are slaves to drink, to carefully guarded secrets or to the mesmerizing power of hope. Though the plot sometimes bogs down from an overload of emotional complications, the novel ultimately celebrates the courage of following one's ordained path in the universe and meeting the challenges of fate. It is an assured example of Erdrich's storytelling skills. (Apr.)

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