The Antelope Wife

The Antelope Wife

4.4 7
by Louise Erdrich
     
 

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The Antelope Wife is a novel of connections in which history, lust, contemporary urban Native American life, hand-me-down names, and legends, as well as sacred myth, combine. Set in Minneapolis, originally an important trading center and hunting ground, still a magnet for many native people from nearby reservations, the story goes back in time. The novel beginsSee more details below

Overview

The Antelope Wife is a novel of connections in which history, lust, contemporary urban Native American life, hand-me-down names, and legends, as well as sacred myth, combine. Set in Minneapolis, originally an important trading center and hunting ground, still a magnet for many native people from nearby reservations, the story goes back in time. The novel begins with a soldier, who deserts the cavalry during a cruel raid on an Ojibwa village to chase a dog bearing on its back a baby on a cradle board strung with breathtaking blue beads. Generations later, a fast-talking trader kidnaps a silent and graceful woman from a powwow. In a haunting re-creation of a native tale, the woman is part antelope. Hunter and hunted change identities. The Antelope Wife changes people. Nothing is ever the same again for friends and family.

Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
Richly cadenced, deeply textured, Erdrich's writing has the luster and sheen of poetry, each sentence circling deeper into emotion, motivation, and rationale, until love touches not eternity but death, transforming The Antelope Wife into a story of longing and of longing assuaged.
People
[A] beguiling family sags...A captivating jigsaw puzzle of longing and loss whose pieces form an unforgettable image of contemporary Native American life.
San Francisco Chronicle
[An] extraordinary new offering of history, lore, obsession, lose, and love. Beautifully, extravagantly, in narrative fragments that mix metaphor and story, Erdrich creates a seemingly haphazard, totally absorbing series of oblique snapshots of these characters.
Boston Globe Sunday Magazine
Spiritual yet pragmatic, Erdrich's deft lyricism affirms while it defies the usual lines separating the mythical from the daily.
Michiko Kakutani
A fiercely imagined tale of love and loss, a story that manages to transform tragedy into comic redemption, sorrow into heroic survival.—New York Times
New York Times
A fiercely imagined tale of love and loss, a story that manages to transform tragedy into comic redemption, sorrow into heroic survival.
People Magazine
A beguiling family saga...The Antelope Wife is a captivating jigsaw puzzle of longing and loss whose pieces form an unforgettable image of contemporary Native American life.
Winnipeg Free Press
An extraordinarily powerful book. Beautifully rendered in her singular voice, it features characters as rich and complex as any in contemporary fiction.
Denver Post
Elegant and spare...In Erdrich's literary universe, the border between dream and reality is as sheer as the seventh veil. The Antelope Wife is exhilirating, so rich that you'll want to read it in small pieces, like savoring an exceptionally dense dessert. But it may be hard to pause between the lines.
Atlanta Journal Constitution
[An incredibly] rich novel. As always, Erdrich is the consummate spinner of tales, reeling out strands of beautiful stories whose interconnection becomes apparent on an almost unconscious level.
Elizabeth Judd

Are our lives woven from old scores and past betrayals, or are we "working out the minor details of a strictly random pattern?" This philosophical chestnut is at the heart of Louise Erdrich's latest novel, The Antelope Wife, a sprawling tale of two Native American (Ojibwa) families, the Roys and Shawanos. Although Erdrich clearly wants to create an overarching picture spanning several generations, she devotes the lion's share of her attention to the story of Rozin Roy. Rozin falls hopelessly in love with baker Frank Shawano, and the affair has tragic consequences for her husband and twin daughters.

What surprises, again and again, is how dead on Erdrich is when she seizes upon the right metaphor. One of those inspired metaphors is blitzkuchen -- "the cake of all cakes," which Shawano's father first tasted and became enthralled with during World War II. Frank's life quest is to perfect his blitzkuchen recipe, but the cake never lives up to that initial rapturous encounter. When Frank serves the German cake at his wedding to Rozin, Rozin's former husband maliciously suggests the dessert was poisoned. "The crowd began to taste the cake, exclaiming as they did, nervously, in trepidation, but unable to resist the next bite after the first, the next and ext delicate-yet-dense bite of blitzkuchen. And so it was, so the secret was discovered. The final and the missing ingredient -- fear."

Not all of Erdrich's scenes are so successful. It's perhaps too easy to fault writers who have as distinctive a style as Erdrich's for sometimes sounding like lousy imitations of themselves. Then again, when Erdrich's trademark prose disappoints, she's embarrassing -- silly and trite. Some of her phrases are lyrical but meaningless, like "earthen earth" or "Unmasked, the woman's tage glance broke across Roy's brow like fire." Still others are precious and New Agey: "Her daughters danced out of black mist in the shimmering caves of their hair." And here's how Erdrich describes a pregnancy: "the tiny knock of new life began in the cradle of her hipbones." Oh, please.

Clunkers notwithstanding, The Antelope Wife is a satisfying whole, with plenty of blitzkuchen moments and an intriguing exploration of continuity vs. chaos. Her tightly constructed scenes reflect patterns repeated with each generation of Roy and Shawano, subtly suggesting a grand design. And Erdrich delivers 10 or 12 images so fitting that they transform her carefully woven prose into something as mysterious and sublime as sugar with a hint of fear.
Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Family stories repeat themselves in patterns and waves, generation to generation, across blood and time." Erdrich (Love Medicine, etc.) embroiders this theme in a sensuous novel that brings her back to the material she knows best, the emotionally dislocated lives of Native Americans who try to adhere to the tribal ways while yielding to the lure of the general culture. In a beautifully articulated tale of intertwined relationships among succeeding generations, she tells the story of the Roy and the Shawano families and their "colliding histories and destinies." The narrative begins like a fever dream with a U.S. cavalry attack on an Ojibwa village, the death of an old woman who utters a fateful word, the inadvertent kidnapping of a baby and a mother's heartbreaking quest. The descendants of the white soldier who takes the baby and of the bereaved Ojibwa mother are connected by a potent mix of tragedy, farce and mystical revelation. As time passes, there is another kidnapping, the death of a child and a suicide. Fates are determined by a necklace of blue beads, a length of sweetheart calico and a recipe for blitzkuchen. Though the saga is animated by obsessional love, mysterious disappearances, mythic legends and personal frailties, Erdrich also works in a comic vein. There's a dog who tells dirty jokes and a naked wife whose anniversary surprise has an audience. Throughout, Erdrich emphasizes the paradoxes of everyday life: braided grandmas who follow traditional ways and speak the old language also wear eyeliner and sneakers. In each generation, men and women are bewitched by love, lust and longing; they are slaves to drink, to carefully guarded secrets or to the mesmerizing power of hope. Though the plot sometimes bogs down from an overload of emotional complications, the novel ultimately celebrates the courage of following one's ordained path in the universe and meeting the challenges of fate. It is an assured example of Erdrich's storytelling skills. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Erdrich suffuses Minneapolis with Native American spirit.
The New York Times
A fiercely imagined tale of love and loss, a story that manages to transform tragedy into comic redemption, sorrow into heroic survival.
Los Angeles Times
Richly cadenced, deeply textured, Erdrich's writing has the luster and sheen of poetry, each sentence circling deeper into emotion, moivation, and rationale, until love touches not eternity but death, transforming The Antelope Wife into a story of longing and of longing assuaged.
New York Post
Erdrich manages to find a rich vein of unique and capivating images in the mostly stripped-out mine of magic realism.
The Denver Post
Elegant and spare...In Erdrich's literary universe, the border between dream and reality is as sheer as the seventh veil. The Antelope Wife is exhilirating, so rich that you'll want to read it in small pieces, like savoring an exceptionally dense dessert. But it may be hard to pause between the lines.
Diana Postlethwaite
There is light as well as darkness in this fictional universe, and encountering it offers pain and exhilaration in equal measure.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Erdrich's stunningly imagined sixth novel follows the trail blazed by such well-received predecessors as The Bingo Palace (1994). Over several generations, a strange symbiosis binds, as it divides, two families, the Roys and the Shawanos. Erdrich begins with a cryptic imageþof women sewing beads into an indiscernible patternþthen briefly tells the story of Scranton Roy, who is drawn westward by the vision of a mysteriously beckoning woman, but who, having failed to find her, goes into service with the US Cavalry. During a raid, Roy kills an old Indian woman and then rescues an infant girl whose cradle is strapped to the dog that carries her. He raises the girl as his own, until her mother, Blue Prairie Woman, comes for her. Shortly after, the newly motherless girl is sheltered by a herd of antelope, who somehow sense she's one of them. She'll return again to "civilization," to begin a cycle of restlessness and unbelonging that afflicts her descendants and the men who love them. From this haunting beginning, Erdrich fashions a powerful and dauntingly elliptical tale of obsession and separation that moves backward and forward through time from Northern Plains Indian settlements to present-day Minneapolis. Its preternaturally striking characters (whose tangled relationships will be understood best by those who know Erdrich's earlier fiction) include: Klaus Shawano, who acquires "the antelope woman," but canþt keep her; several sets of twin daughters, all frustratingly distant from the men who claim them; Richard Whiteheart Beads, who causes the deaths of those he loves and attempts to take his own life when his beleaguered ex-wife remarries; and—Erdrich'smost brilliant invention—the ghostly "windigo dog," a creature magically akin to the humans it patiently serves and protests. Too many explanations are hastily knotted together at the end, and a genealogy would have helped, but few readers will complain. This is realism at its most magical, in a novel as satisfying as any Erdrich has written.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060930073
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
03/28/1999
Series:
Harper Perennial
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.57(d)
Lexile:
870L (what's this?)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Father's Milk

Scranton Roy

Deep in the past during a spectacular cruel raid upon an isolated Ojibwa village mistaken for hostile during the scare over the starving Sioux, a dog bearing upon its back a frame-board tikinagun enclosing a child in moss, velvet, embroideries of beads, was frightened into the vast carcass of the world west of the Otter Tail River. A cavalry soldier, spurred to human response by the sight of the dog, the strapped-on child, vanishing into the distance, followed and did not return.

What happened to him lives on, though fading in the larger memory, and I relate it here in order that it not be lost.

Private Scranton Teodorus Roy was the youngest son of a Quaker father and a reclusive poet mother who established a small Pennsylvania community based on intelligent conversation. One day into his view a member of a traveling drama troupe appeared. Unmasked, the woman's stage glance broke across Roy's brow like fire. She was tall, stunningly slender, pale, and paler haired, resolute in her character, and simple in her amused scorn of Roy — so young, bright-faced, obedient. To prove himself, he made a rendezvous promise and then took his way west following her glare. An icicle, it drove into his heart and melted there, leaving a trail of ice and blood. The way was long. She glided like a snake beneath his footsteps in fevered dreams. When he finally got to the place they had agreed upon, she was not there, of course. Angry and at odds, he went against the radiant ways of his father and enlisted in the U.S.Cavalry at Fort Sibley on the banks of the Mississippi in St. Paul, Minnesota.

There, he was trained to the rifle, learned to darn his socks using a wooden egg, ate many an ill-cooked bean, and polished his officers' harness leather until one day, in a state of uneasy resignation, he put on the dark blue uniform, fixed his bayonet, set off marching due west.

The village his company encountered was peaceful, then not.

In chaos of groaning horses, dogs screaming, rifle and pistol reports, and the smoke of errant cooking fires, Scranton Roy was most disturbed not by the death yells of old men and the few warriors shocked naked from their robes, but by the feral quiet of the children. And the sudden contempt he felt for them all. Unexpected, the frigid hate. The pleasure in raising, aiming. They ran fleet as their mothers, heading for a brush-thick gully and a slough of grass beyond. Two fell. Roy whirled, not knowing whom to shoot next. Eager, he bayoneted an old woman who set upon him with no other weapon but a stone picked from the ground.

She was built like the broken sacks of hay he'd used for practice, but her body closed fast around the instrument. He braced himself against her to pull free, set his boot between her legs to tug the blade from her stomach, and as he did so tried to avoid her eyes but did not manage. His gaze was drawn into hers and he sank with it into the dark unaccompanied moment before his birth. There was a word she uttered in her language. Daashkikaa. Daashkikaa. A groan of heat and blood. He saw his mother, yanked the bayonet out with a huge cry, and began to run.

That was when he saw the dog, a loping dirt-brown cur, circle the camp twice with the child on its back and set off into open space. As much to escape the evil confusion of this village and his own dark act as out of any sympathy for the baby, though he glimpsed its face — mystified and calm — Scranton Roy started running after the two. Within moments, the ruckus of death was behind him. The farther away the village got, the farther behind he wanted it. He kept on, running, walking, managing to keep the dog in view only because it was spring and the new grass, after a burn of lightning, was just beginning its thrust, which would take it to well over a full-grown man's height.

From time to time, as the day went on, the dog paused to rest, stretched patient beneath its burden. Grinning and panting, she allowed Roy to approach, just so far. A necklace of blue beads hung from the brow guard of the cradle board. It swayed, clattered lightly. The child's hands were bound in the wrappings. She could not reach for the beads but stared at them as though mesmerized. The sun grew razor-hot. Tiny blackflies settled at the corners of her eyes. Sipped moisture from along her lids until, toward late afternoon, the heat died. A cold wind boomed against Scranton Roy in a steady rush. Still, into the emptiness, the three infinitesimally pushed.

The world darkened. Afraid of losing the trail, Roy gave his utmost. As night fixed upon them, man and dog were close enough to hear each other breathing and so, in that rhythm, both slept. Next morning, the dog stayed near, grinning for scraps. Afraid to frighten him with a rifle shot, Roy hadn't brought down game although he'd seen plenty. He managed to snare a rabbit. Then, with his tinderbox and steel, he started a fire and began to roast it, at which smell the dog dragged itself belly-down through the dirt, edging close. The baby made its first sound, a murmuring whimper. Accepting tidbits and bones, the dog was alert, suspicious. Roy could not touch it until the next day when he'd thought to wash himself all over and approach naked to diminish his whiteman's scent...

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