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Erdrich opens her sprawling and ambitious new novel with the same haunting episode that began Love Medicine (1984): A young Chippewa woman gets out of a car and walks through a snowstorm to her death--but this time we see it all through the eyes of the man who was with her in that car. Jack Mauser never lets go of the memory of June Kashpaw vanishing into the North Dakota snow. He considers her his first wife, though he was were married to her in a dubious ceremony and they knew each other for less than a day. Jack goes on to collect--and be dumped by--four more wives: brainy and passionate Eleanor; brittle Candice; beautiful, low-life Marlis; and, finally, stolid Dot (a child in The Beet Queen, 1986), who's fond of Jack but, deep down, still loves her "real" husband, imprisoned Gerry Nanapush. All four ex-wives are forced together when Jack's house burns down. He's presumed dead, though the evidence is inconclusive, and after a funeral service, the four women drive off together into a howling blizzard. When their car gets stuck in a remote spot, it seems they could easily meet June Kashpaw's fate--and in fact the specter of June could be among them in the form of a mysterious, silent hitchhiker whom Dot has insisted on picking up. Erdrich has a lot of fun probing the possibilities of four ex-wives trapped together with all their small rivalries and disappointments--and some of their most heartfelt secrets--revealed to one another. But despite some great moments, it all goes on much too long as the women tell their detailed but not always compelling life stories. There's just too much material going in too many different directions to keep the storyline taut. Still, there are good surprises--the hitchhiker's true identity is one--and Erdrich's prose shines as brilliantly as ever. Maybe not quite tales of burning love, but definitely plenty of smoke.

Pub Date: April 18th, 1996
ISBN: 0-06-017605-9
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1996


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