In an attack on an Indian village, a U.S. cavalryman takes a baby girl, but later gives her back. So begins a multi-generation saga on the girl's descendants as they navigate between modern life and ancient tradition. By the author of The Bingo Palace.
It's hard to really summarize the plot of this novel. It basically tells the story of the Roy/Shawano family, from its roots in the past, through to the present day. The story isn't told in precisely the right order, and some of the oldest pieces aren't revealed until the end. Some of the sections are told in the voice of particular characters, and some are in the third person. Through the book, there is the enigmatic character of "Sweethart Calico", the Antelope Wife, who (I think) stands as a symbol of the loss of freedom of the native american people. The story relies heavily on illusions to native american mythology, and through the story of this family, the reader gains insight into the plight of "city Indians".
Reading through it, I was sad that I had no class to discuss this book with because it would lend itself really well to discussion of symbolism and Native American mythology. I remember a lot of it from my college courses, but some of it is a little murky. I'm not sure I liked the way that the narration jumped from the third to the first person in various chapters. The tagline on the front says that this book manages to transform tragedy into comic redemption. Though that is something charcteristic of some other native American writers (i.e. Sherman Alexie), I didn't find much humor in this book. Mostly, it's pretty depressing with few uplifting moments. That said, it's a very interesting read and I'm glad that (five years later) I actually managed to make it through it.
The characters and their stories, and especially how they all related to one another, were fascinating and wonderful. The book unfolds so neatly, with just the right pacing, and all the little pieces click together so well. And the intermeshing of worlds - native and other - adds another complexity that works like icing on Klaus' cake. This is the second of Erdrich's books I've read and loved, and I will absolutely seek out more of her work.
From the book jacket: “Family stories repeat themselves in patterns and waves, generation to generation, across bloods and time. Once the pattern is set we go on replicating it,” writes Louise Erdrich in The Antelope Wife, her sixth novel. Rooted in the landscape of city life, yet continually influenced by the power of Ojibwa family, the intricacies of Ojibwa language and religious belief, this book extends the branches of the families who populate Erdrich’s work and reflects the irrevocable patterns set in motion by certain fateful acts.
I just have to say that Erdrich is one of my favorite writers. Her prose is luminous and poetic. Her use of magical realism seamless. It reminds me of listening to my grandparents, aunts and uncles tell stories of family lore, sitting on a dark porch of a summer evening. I would be entranced by their stories and the images they painted found their way into my dreams and into the very fiber of my being.
The novel weaves history, contemporary urban life, legend, and sacred myth into a marvelous tapestry of a story. There is violence, and lust, and tenderness to break your heart. There is birth and death, humor and tragedy, betrayal and forgiveness, broken people scattered on the battlefield of life, and others standing tall and moving forward.
I want to go back and read it again.
While Erdrich frequently uses characters over and over again in her novels, you can really read any of them as a stand-alone work. This novel was first published in 1998, and reissued in 2016 as Antelope Woman.
I was excited to get an audio read by Erdrich. The poetry of her language really comes out in her performance. HOWEVER … I realized too late that this was an abridged version. No wonder I felt that I would better enjoy the novel if I read the text … which I did.