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THE BINGO PALACE by Louise Erdrich


by Louise Erdrich

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0061129755
Publisher: HarperCollins

Plucked from the revolving carousel of Erdrich's Chippewa characters now is Lipsha Morrissey--the good-for-nothing doofus son of much-escaped convict Gerry Nanapush and spooky June Kapshaw- -who's been batting around off the reservation but returns and promptly falls stone in love with Shawnee Ray, a single mother half-pledged to the tribe's gambling-casino entrepreneur, the much older Lyman Lamartine. Lipsha's ardor is transcendental, biblical, greater-than-great; but Shawnee could take him or leave him--and does both. To win her wholly, Lipsha (who works at Lyman's bingo parlor) will go to any length, including subjecting himself to a vision-contest with Lyman--from which he returns sprayed on by a skunk. Finally, it's miracles and love medicine and spirit intercessions that bring everything into harmony--and that Erdrich, as ever, wants to celebrate. Yet unlike the precise, slapstick comedics of The Beet Queen (1986), here the doings are all overdetermined by the slap and slather of Erdrich's lyricism. There's no palpable Lipsha, no solid Shawnee--or Lyman or Gerry--but instead the artificial pressurizations of the strenuous style: "The not yet of his potential life was the perfect match for Shawnee's I am, her is, he reasoned, while Lyman's always was fit precisely with the no doubt of some other unnamed and successful woman." The skunk-episode and a late car-stealing scene involving a baby in the backseat have the zip and shading of accidents admiringly transfigured--but hardly anything else is that liberated. Erdrich, unusual for her, even resorts to sermonizing about gambling's malign effect on the reservation. Lots of fancy molding here, swirls and gewgaws--but an insubstantial palace in the end.