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The Bingo Palace (1994)
by Louise Erdrich
No current Talk conversations about this book.
A luminescent continuation of Erdrich's preceding novel, "Love Medicine."
Moving well forward in time from the earlier novels, this one takes us into the modern lives of Lyman Lamartine, a successful businessman with big plans for making the Indian Gaming Act work for him, and his rival-in-love, Lipsha Morrisey, who may have inherited the Pillager healing gift along with a resistance to drowning from his great grandmother Fleur, but who has no true feeling for how to use his power. Both men vie for the affection of Shawnee Ray, who doesn't seem inclined to make a permanent commitment to either of them and may just move on without choosing. The strings of family ties are just as tangled here as in all the earlier novels, and the strong determined women of the reservation keep tightening the knots. Some things come clear, others remain murky; some hopes are raised, but luck is a chancy thing and drowning isn't the only peril to be avoided. It is a rich pleasure to spend time among these people, despite their weaknesses.
Louise Erdrich’s early novels are set in and around a Native American reservation in North Dakota, and are often compared to Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha. Her characters bring the culture to life while also showing the impact of government policy and discrimination. The Bingo Palace is set in contemporary times and is primarily the story of Lipsha Lamartine, a young man abandoned by his mother in infancy. His father has long been in prison, and Lipsha has few role models. When he is summoned home by his grandmother, he almost immediately falls for Shawnee Ray, who unfortunately for Lipsha is in a relationship with Lipsha’s uncle, Lyman Lamartine. Lyman is older, wiser, and more prosperous. He is also the father of Shawnee’s son. But Shawnee has ambitions of her own: to further her education, start a career, and make an independent life for herself.
Lipsha gets a job working for Lyman at his gambling establishment. He also plays a bit of bingo on the side, and between paid work and gambling manages to improve his finances somewhat. Lyman sort of takes Lipsha under his wing and Lipsha values their relationship, even as he is sneaking around wooing Shawnee behind Lyman’s back. Lipsha tries hard to make himself a better man, but as a man with limited education and job prospects, the odds are stacked against him. Ruled by his desires, he fails to read Shawnee’s signals even when she is fairly direct with him. And then Lipsha’s father re-enters his life, with dramatic consequences.
At first I thought The Bingo Palace might be a “beat the odds” kind of story and was really pulling for Lipsha, but Erdrich doesn’t write that kind of fiction. I enjoyed seeing a few of Lipsha’s ancestors return, much older and sometimes wiser than in previous books. Some earlier events were also described more fully. So once again, I am left with a deeper understanding of this community, but also a desire to read more.
The masochist in me has developed a strange yearning for Erdrich when the blistering winter chill starts to scrape St. Louis. Not that this place gets nearly as cold and for not nearly as long as her Dakota climes, but there's such a mysteriously gratifying level of sympathy, longing, and ironic warmth I get out of her world. I think this started when I read most of Tracks one December day three years ago, smothered in blankets next to a drafty window in a former apartment, when my heat had gone out due to a nasty ice storm the night before. And now that time has come again to take in another story.
I've had this book on my shelf for at least two and a half years, maybe longer. In my quest to read Erdrich's novels chronological in order of publication, this was the fourth stop on my trip. Only, it took me a few tries to really get through it, and in the meantime I broke the frustration of my chronological resolution and read a couple others that had been specifically recommended (Master Butcher and Last Report) (and both of those were superb). Something about The Bingo Palace just didn't jive well with me, but for a while I couldn't really put my finger on it. The strange thing was, though, between all attempts to read this, I remembered so much of the story I never had to back track to refresh my memory. Over the past couple years, whenever my mind wandered over to Erdrich, I would always think of this incomplete novel I could never seem to finish. I couldn't just let it be. So, as we've dipped plenty below freezing already this December, I picked it up again, and this time it wasn't any problem. In fact, I rather enjoyed it. Part of it, at least--I think I've identified what didn't rest well with me previously. It's the choppy narration. I'm down with different points of view, but it's tricky, and she's done it better in other novels of hers. Mainly, I found myself craving Lipsha's point-of-view, tearing down the pages as he told his story. I liked the other reporting alright, but it always seemed to feel like a slight disappointment to wander away from Lipsha's ravenous crush.
I can't say for sure, but I think in this last shot I gave it, the measures of insanity driven by feelings of lust or love really stirred up more empathy in me than before. I mean, like it really drove some of these people crazy. I blame it on my friends and family (and me, too, I guess...). I've witnessed it enough in my own life by now, and especially recently, that I felt a lot more comfortable with the characters.
But alas, since it took me so long to get through this novel, I don't feel any super-strong attachment to it like I have with ones prior. It's got its really driving moments for sure, but enough bumps in the road to average it out to OK. It was good enough to keep my winter soul searching for more Erdrich, and I'll leave it at that.
Erdrich here revisits some of the characters who pop up in her work elsewhere, tracing the Kashpaws, Nanapushes, and Morriseys into the late 20th century. This one felt pretty uneven, much more in the vein of Tales of Burning Love (which I did not much like) than some of her other more lyrical work. It was fine; it just felt more disjointed than some, and sort of incomplete.
Belongs to Series
Love Medicine (4)
Belongs to Publisher Series
suhrkamp taschenbuch (4037)
Has as a student's study guide
"At the crossroads of his life, Lipsha Morrissey is summoned by his grandmother to return to the reservation. There, he falls in love for the very first time--with the beautiful Shawnee Ray, who's already considering a marriage proposal from Lipsha's wealthy entrepreneurial boss, Lyman Lamartine. But when all efforts to win Shawnee's affections go hopelessly awry, Lipsha seeks out his great-grandmother for a magical solution to his romantic dilemma--on sacred ground where a federally-sanctioned bingo palace is slated for construction."--Cover, p. .
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.54Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1945-1999
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