Erdrich's novels of Native American life, Love Medicine , The Beet Queen and Tracks , have earned her a secure place as an observant, intensely poetic chronicler of her people's lives, spanning much of the 20th century. But if The Bingo Palace is a capstone to the saga, as its interweaving of characters and half-remembered stories from previous volumes rather suggests, it disappoints. Its hero, Lipsha Morrissey, is a young man, bastard son of irresponsible June Kashpaw and jailbird Gerry Nanapush, whose mother tried to drown him as an infant. He seems like a bright person of wasted promise, who drifts aimlessly between jobs taken on a whim until he returns to the reservation and falls under the spell of lovely Shawnee Ray Toose. But Shawnee Ray is the consort of Lyman Lamartine, the smart, opportunistic entrepreneur who gets rich by feeding on his tribespeople's bingo frenzy. How is Lipsha to cope with such a rival--though Shawnee Ray shows she cares for him too? The book is a telling study of Lipsha's passion, and the efforts he makes to win the woman--a vision quest in the deep woods ends up hilariously with him snuggling with a skunk. But neither Shawnee nor Lyman--deeply insecure himself--ever quite comes to life as Lipsha does, and there are myriad subplots and additional characters as Erdrich piles on the generations. The writing is passionate, often beautiful, whole scenes remain firmly etched in memory, and a telling impression remains of the hopes and despairs of contemporary Native Americans. In the end, however, narrative momentum is sacrificed for a broad canvas full of telling strokes, but which fails to cohere. BOMC alternate; author tour. (Jan.)
Immediately upon returning to his North Dakota Chippewa reservation, Lipsha Morrissey--having failed in the outside world--falls head over heels in love with the beautiful Shawnee Ray. She is the fierce and ambitious mother of the illegitimate son of Lyman Lamartine, owner of the Bingo Palace and a powerful force on the reservation. Lyman is determined to marry Shawnee Ray, who is just as determined to elude him and go to college. When Lipsha goes to work for Lyman, he also enters into a battle for Shawnee Ray's affections, calling first on the magic of tribal elder Fleur Pillager, then on luck, and finally on traditional tribal religion. Erdrich's fourth novel is at once comic and moving, magical and realistic, and filled with evidence of her awesome descriptive powers. The affecting ending makes the reader hungry for more; those who haven't already read Erdrich's previous novels will want to begin with Love Medicine , recently published in an expanded edition ( LJ 10/15/93). Highly recommended.-- Patricia Ross, Westerville P.L., Ohio
"Beautiful...Shows us a place where love, fate and chance are woven together like a braid, a world where daily life is enriched by a powerful spiritual presence.""--New York Times Book Review""Wonderful...hopeful, wrenching, funny, sexy, intense, and penetratingly true."--Pam Houston, " Los Angeles Times Book Review"