cover image The Bingo Palace

The Bingo Palace

Louise Erdrich. HarperCollins Publishers, $23 (274pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017080-6

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.)