Debra Magpie Earling, Deb Earling, . . Putnam/ BlueHen, $24.95 (296pp) ISBN 978-0-399-14899-6
Earling follows the literary trail blazed by Louise Erdrich in her poignant if familiar debut novel, which explores life in the tiny town of Perma, Mont., through the adventures of the restless Louise White Elk as she struggles with a problematic passion for irresistible bad boy Baptiste Yellow Knife. The tempestuous duo's love-hate relationship is complicated by Charlie Kicking Woman, the local police officer who admires Louise from afar even as she breaks up his marriage. The other romantic subplots are less captivating—Louise's affair with the reservation's white real estate mogul, Harvey Stoner, is contrived and stilted, and Baptiste's attempts to arouse Louise's jealousy are even more forgettable. Narrated alternately by Louise, Baptiste and Charlie, the plot veers between hallucinatory, poetic descriptions of reservation life and tumultuous romantic encounters as Louise and Baptiste conduct their erotic duel, until the passions finally give way to murder. When Harvey decides to attack Baptiste, Louise and Charlie are left to make their own pivotal choices. Earling offers first-rate characterizations, and she does an equally fine job portraying tribal life in the Flatland Nation. The predictable and disorganized plot makes this book less memorable than it might have been, but there's little doubt that Earling has considerable potential.
Reviewed on: 05/20/2002
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