Louise Erdrich,
The Antelope Wife
(HarperFlamingo, 1998)

Louise Erdrich's sixth novel sets down a pattern of history woven throughout generations of Native American families and folklore to create an intricate design of love, lust, heartache and growth. Using as its center the Ojibwa culture and an ancient myth, The Antelope Wife takes the reader on a journey from a cavalry raid during the early part of this century to modern Minneapolis.

The events of the novel are strung into place with a soldier's desertion from his troop after a raid on an Ojibwa village. After he sees an Indian dog carrying a baby strapped on its back, Scranton Roy follows both baby and dog out across the plains until he catches up with them. He (somewhat mysteriously) breastfeeds the baby himself, unknowingly setting into motion events that will culminate generations later with a modern Antelope Wife, a string of blue beads, a German chocolate cake, and a young woman searching for her real name.

There were times when I found myself wishing for a family tree printed inside the back cover of the book; the families are rich and complex, their lives connecting like the twining leaves of a embroidered vine. Erdrich's prose has been called "unsentimental"; she digs deep to the invisible stitches that bind the pattern together. The Antelope Wife is brilliantly rendered in the reds of love and lust, the blues of time and memory, and the browns and ochres of pain and loss.

[ by Audrey M. Clark ]

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