The Antelope Wife

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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 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 ...
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New York, NY 1998 Soft Cover First Edition, First Printing Collectible-New in None as Issued jacket BRAND NEW & Collectible. First Edition, First Printing. Author Louise Erdrich ... (1954-) is of Ojibwe and German ancestry and was born and raised on the Turtle Mountina Ojibwe Reservation. Both her parents taught at a Bureaur of Indian Affairs. A complex novel, set in Minesota and rooted in contemporary city life, interveaves Native American traditonal world perspective with modern American demands on the body and soul. Read more Show Less

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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.

1999 World Fantasy Award winner.

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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.
Boston Globe Sunday Magazine
Spiritual yet pragmatic, Erdrich's deft lyricism affirms while it defies the usual lines separating the mythical from the daily. Erdrich leads every event in her book to its outer limits, so no detail is mundane. And each scene contains bits of hilarity, extravagance, of horror. Throughout, the author's ample afection for human nature finds expression in playful inventiveness. Erdrich's many readers will bend their ears to it, and like any worthy recipients of prayer will be moved as they are bewildered.
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.
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.
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.
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.
San Francisco Chronicle
Extraordinary new offering of history, lore, obsession, loss, and love. Beautifully, extravagantly, in narrative fragments that mix metaphor and story, Erdrich creates a seemingly haphazard, totally absorbing series of oblique snapshots of "the colliding histories and destinies" of these characters. The writing is lyrical yet self-mocking, shifting from broad comedy to horror and back again. The operative metaphor is beading: small particles string together to create decorative designs the link generations, cultures, colors.
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.
From Barnes & Noble
The Antelope Wife reflects the irrevocable patterns set in motion by certain fateful acts. It is a story of connections in which history, lust, contemporary Native American life, hand-me-down names, and legends, as well as myth, combine. It extends the branches of the families who populate Louise Erdich's earlier, award-winning novels, and once again, her unsentimental, unsparing writing captures the Native American sense of despair, magic, and humor in an unforgettable story.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060930073
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/28/1999
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 256
  • Lexile: 870L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich lives with her family in Minnesota and is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore. Ms. Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, and this story—which will, in the end, span one hundred years in the life of an Ojibwe woman—was inspired when Ms. Erdrich and her mother, Rita Gourneau Erdrich, were researching their own family history. Chickadee begins a new part of the story that started with The Birchbark House, a National Book Award finalist; The Game of Silence, winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction; and the acclaimed The Porcupine Year.

Ms. Erdrich is also the bestselling author of many critically acclaimed novels for adults, including the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves and National Book Award finalist The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. She is also the author of the picture book Grandmother's Pigeon, illustrated by Jim LaMarche.

Biography

Award-winning novelist Louise Erdrich grew up in North Dakota, the oldest of seven children born to a Chippewa mother and a father of German-American descent. She graduated from Dartmouth College in 1976 and Johns Hopkins University in 1979, supporting herself with a variety of jobs, including lifeguard, waitress, teacher, and construction flag signaler. She began her literary career as a poet and short story writer and won awards in both fields.

In the late 1970s, Erdrich began a unique collaboration with Michael Dorris, a Native American writer and teacher she met at Dartmouth and married in 1981. In a creative partnership that endured throughout most of their 14-year marriage, each writer exerted a profound influence on the other's work. Although their names appear in tandem on the cover of only two books, Route Two (1990) and The Crown of Columbus (1991), literally everything either one produced during this time was a collaborative effort. In 1995, after a series of tragic setbacks, the couple separated; two years later, Dorris committed suicide.

From the beginning, Erdrich has translated her mixed blood ancestry into chronicles of astonishing power and range. Her bestselling debut novel, the 1984 National Book Critics Circle Award winner Love Medicine, is a series of interrelated stories about several generations of Chippewas living on or near a North Dakota reservation. Spanning most of the 20th century, the book dispenses with any sort of chronological time line and borrows narrative conventions from Native American oral tradition. Several subsequent novels pick up characters, incidents, and narrative threads from Love Medicine to form an interconnected story cycle.

In her novels, Erdrich explores complex issues of family, personal identity, and cultural survival among full- and mixed-blood Native Americans, delving into mythology and tradition to extract what is both specific and universal. She has been known to rework material, incorporating short stories into long fiction, rewriting, and revising constantly. She continues to write poetry and is the author of several children's books, as well as a memoir of early motherhood and a travel book. She is also a founder of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore in Minneapolis, where she now lives.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Louise Karen Erdrich (full name; pronounced "air-drik")
    2. Hometown:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 7, 1954
    2. Place of Birth:
      Little Falls, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      B.A., Dartmouth College, 1976; M.A., Johns Hopkins University, 1979

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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Table of Contents

The Antelope Wife reflects the irrevocable patterns set in motion by certain fateful acts. It is a story of connections in which history, lust, contemporary Native American life, hand-me-down names, and legends, as well as myth, combine. It extends the branches of the families who populate Louise Erdich's earlier, award-winning novels, and once again, her unsentimental, unsparing writing captures the Native American sense of despair, magic, and humor in an unforgettable story.
Read More Show Less

Interviews & Essays

The Complicated Life of Louise Erdrich
From the May-June 2001 issue of Book magazine.

In the past year alone, Louise Erdrich completed one novel, nearly finished another, opened a bookstore and, at forty-six, gave birth to a daughter named Azure. When Erdrich walks into her Minneapolis store, Birch Bark Books, Herbs and Native Arts, she is juggling an armful of paper and books and passing out chocolate tins with pictures of Elvis Presley and the cartoon character Pepe Le Pew on top. She adjusts Azure, who's ready to be fed. "Overdoing it is my motto," she announces. "I'm one of those overdoing-it mothers."

Motherhood isn't the only area where Erdrich overachieves. She's published nine books of fiction, two volumes of poetry, two children's books, a book of essays, and numerous short stories and poems. Her work is recognized for its complexity and for its poetic, touching, gently sarcastic, and humorous voice. Erdrich delves into how Native and European American cultures come together, clash, fall apart and, at times, figure each other out and learn to love. Showing compassion for all her characters -- no matter what their weaknesses or sins, of which they tend to have a multitude -- she often writes stories with more than one point of view. She did so masterfully in her first and best-known book, Love Medicine, and she does so -- again, masterfully -- in the new one, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. Lyrically reflective, wittily refracted, and adeptly sensual, the story centers on Agnes DeWitt, who, because of a series of passions and events, lives most of her life as Father Damien Modeste, a mission priest on an Indian reservation between 1912 and 1996. The Last Report -- the sixth in a series of Erdrich books to focus on two families in Argus, a fictional Red River Valley reservation town along the Minnesota-North Dakota border -- is as thoroughly imbued with a challenging kind of spirituality as it is graced with an intriguing story.

Rich and complex as Erdrich's writing is, her life matches it for intensity and involvement -- and she wouldn't have it any other way. "I only enjoy life if it's really complicated," she says. She exudes a calm strength, but hers is a serenity earned, likely necessitated, by a life and career visited often by controversy and tragedy.

At Birch Bark Books, Erdrich's complexity is on display. There's an oil painting, for instance, by imprisoned activist Leonard Peltier, of Ka-ishpah, a forefather of Erdrich and freedom fighter of the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe, the same band to which Erdrich (of Ojibwe and German heritage) and Peltier belong. Erdrich attended Peltier's 1977 trial for the murder of two FBI agents and is confident that "not one scintilla" of hard evidence linked Peltier to the murders. After Peltier was convicted (he's been held in Leavenworth Prison for twenty-four years), she wrote to him and they began a correspondence. In December, The New York Times published her editorial in support of Peltier while President Clinton was considering a pardon; it was not granted. On another wall is a shelf filled with books by Michael Dorris, Erdrich's former husband and writing partner. Erdrich met Dorris in 1972 when she enrolled in Dartmouth's first coed class; he was the head of the Native American Studies program. The two didn't get involved until several years after Erdrich graduated and after she'd worked as a waitress, a poetry teacher at prisons, a construction-flag signaler, an editor for the Boston Indian Council's newspaper, The Circle, and had earned a master's degree in creative writing at Johns Hopkins. By then, Dorris was a father, the adoptive single parent of three Native American children who suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome, an experience he described in a 1989 memoir, The Broken Cord. Erdrich and Dorris married in 1981, had three daughters, and collaborated intensely on projects, including co-authoring the 1991 novel The Crown of Columbus.

But their life together unraveled. They separated in 1995, and were planning to divorce, when allegations of criminal sexual child abuse were leveled against Dorris by some of his children. He was under investigation, but nothing was resolved. Dorris committed suicide in 1997.

After Dorris's death, Erdrich was pursued by rumor and innuendo about the couple's marriage, their separation, their family, their careers. Published next to an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune that explained the allegations and details about Dorris's death -- a story for which Erdrich declined to be interviewed -- was a letter she wrote the editor. She expressed thanks to the community for its kind support, and asked that her family be granted privacy and time to grieve.

Today, Erdrich fiercely guards her privacy and that of her children. Quite simply, she states, "I'm finished talking about relationships." But her writing speaks to that which she won't; The Last Report can be seen as an extended reflection on exactly that -- relationships -- and it explores other issues central to Erdrich's life.

"I think every book is connected to a writer's psyche, but I can't say I know exactly how," Erdrich says. "It would be easy to say you were having gender issues at the same time you were writing, or a religious crisis. Certainly the task of my life has been to bring my daughters through a period of grief, but I don't think that's what the book is about entirely. It is about surviving, but I think it's about surviving yourself. The book became to me a search for a spiritual solution to the old human dilemma: Why am I me and why am I here and why is it so hard to be who I am?"

Hearing the Stories
A few years ago, Erdrich and her daughters walked by a blackened storefront window in their peaceful Minneapolis neighborhood. They started fantasizing about opening a bookstore, "complete with the bookstore cat you see in all those British movies." When the space came up for lease, Erdrich and her sister, poet Heid Erdrich, decided to start a business.

After stripping it back to its original bones -- it was originally a meat market, then a dentist's office -- they put in a stairway made from birch trees some friends in Wisconsin had found blown down on their land. Then they brought in the confessional.

Erdrich -- who claims to have a terrible addiction to rummage sales, estate sales, and anything vintage -- rescued the intricately carved Roman Catholic confessional from an architectural salvage store. Heid thought they could wire the confessional for CDs on one side and tapes on the other; their mother suggested they put books with sins in the title -- especially those about the seven deadly sins -- inside. Dream catchers dangle from the confessional's corners. A plain, framed copy of the U.S. Government's 1837 Treaty with the Chippewa hangs inside. It's a three-dimensional metaphor, raising questions about the role of the church and government in the life of Native Americans during the colonization of North America and bringing together both sides of Erdrich's ancestry. Though it serves mainly as decoration, Erdrich admits that she bought it because she "wanted to sit in the priest's box for once."

The confessional, a place of comfort and grace, is a reminder of the sanctity of stories and necessity of privacy. As a writer, Erdrich has been sitting in the priest's box for a long time. "Fiction for me is listening," she says. "It's about what I hear. I keep notes and I jot things down all the time and see what comes over the airwaves, what comes over the brain waves."

The oldest of seven children, Erdrich was born in Little Falls, Minnesota, and raised in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where her parents both taught at a Bureau of Indian Affairs school. An avid reader, she also enjoyed the record player her father purchased with green stamps. "Not only did I read Shakespeare, but I had the record of King Lear, which was fantastic. Being in North Dakota, I never actually saw a stage production, but I heard King Lear. I can still hear that record, the sound of those voices." The voices Erdrich listened to while writing Love Medicine came to her primarily as first-person confessions. The book is a multigenerational portrait of two Ojibwe families, the Kashpaws and Lamartines, set in Argus. Over the past seventeen years, those whispers have added up to five more novels about the Kashpaws and Lamartines: The Beet Queen, Tracks, The Bingo Palace, Tales of Burning Love, and, now, The Last Report. "These are the people who came and talked to me way back when," Erdrich says. "And they keep talking to me, so I have to keep writing about them. I don't have a real choice about it. It's not like I can say, 'Now, I'm finished.' Because then they come back and they have another story to tell."

She stays busy with other stories, too. Starting in 1996, for instance, she published three books in three years: Grandmother's Pigeon, a children's story, The Antelope Wife, and The Birchbark House, which her friend Mark Anthony Rolo, a playwright and the former editor of Minneapolis's Native American newspaper, The Circle, says was the result of her dream to write the Native American version of Little House on the Prairie. She illustrated the book, which became a finalist for the National Book Award for Young People's Literature.

"The great thing about Louise," says Rolo, a member of the Bad River Ojibwe, "is that she lives in a Native community in town. And her family is well rooted in her community back home. She is not the Jane Austen of the Native community looking out a window at the industrial plight of her people."

The First Step of The Last Report
Erdrich started writing The Last Report in 1988, originally intending it to explain how all the earlier novels came into being. She imagined the local priest in Argus, Father Damien, who had appeared as a minor character in Love Medicine, divulging all the confessions of the community to a writer, who would turn out to be Erdrich herself. It wasn't until six years and several books later that Erdrich picked up The Last Report again. The completed version chronicles the life of Father Damien. Erdrich started the book with two images: a woman in a white nightgown floating down a river on the top of a piano, and a priest taking his clothes off for bed and revealing that he is actually a woman. Turns out they became the same person.

Some of those images come directly from Erdrich's life. Though no longer a practicing Roman Catholic, she was raised in the church and still reads everything that comes her way about Catholicism. A nun taught her piano when she was a young girl; she resumed playing in her late thirties, during "a particularly difficult time" and was astonished that her fingers remembered the old pieces. Today, she calls it an incredible solace to be able to have music when she wants it. "For a time I relied upon it so much," she says. "It was enormously consoling." As for the river, growing up, Erdrich was always conscious of its moods: The nearby Red River flooded when she was a child, and again in April 1997. It devastated Grand Forks, North Dakota, that time: It reached flood stage on April 4, and the dikes overflowed on Friday, April 18; Michael Dorris died in the midst of that flood (his body was found on April 11, 1997). The Last Report, which in its early pages is visited by a flood, ends in 1997, too.

Erdrich's new book is filled with lost love, lost identities, stories in danger of being forgotten, illness and death. But at its heart, The Last Report -- lyrical and funny and mesmerizing -- is about someone who, rather than being overwhelmed by loss, survives it. Agnes, in spite of her deprivations, achieves a fantastically full life.

"Agnes really has to live through the fact that she has an amazing drive to follow what her spirit dictates. She does follow it, and it is immensely difficult," Erdrich says of her heroine. "So maybe that's what it's about. And if it's autobiographical, what can I say?" She laughs. "It's hard surviving Louise. Louise has trouble surviving Louise."

But as she finishes her next novel, she has help. It's been a few years since she's had an infant with her while she works. "I talk to Azure every morning, and I say, 'So you're going to help me write the book, right?' " Then, after she gets her older daughters ready for school, Erdrich sneaks up to her room with a cup of tea. She ties the ropes of an Ojibwe swing to her foot so she can swing Azure and write at the same time.

"Maybe when I'm eighty, I'll start being a person who will choose the less complex of the choices, and life will be manageable," Erdrich says. "But I don't do that. I have an overwhelming need to experience everything that life can possibly offer." (Karen Olson)

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Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
The Antelope Wife begins with a post-Civil War cavalry raid on an Indian village. Warned ahead of time by her deer relatives that the raid would come, the villager Blue Prairie Woman ties her baby girl onto the back of a dog, which then flees in terror. One of the soldiers, Scranton Roy, deserts the cavalry and chases after the baby. He catches her, suckles her himself, names her after his mother, Matilda, and raises her as his own daughter. Scranton eventually marries Matilda's teacher, and has with her a son he calls Augustus. Meanwhile, Blue Prairie Woman is impregnated by her human husband, a man named Shawano, and gives birth to two twin girls, Josephette (Zosie) and Mary, but soon deserts them to seek out her first-born. She finds Matilda and beckons to her, but almost immediately dies of a white man's disease. Before she dies, she renames her daughter Other Side of the Earth and arranges for her to be protected by a herd of antelope.

The novel then addresses the lives of modern-day descendants of Scranton Roy, Matilda, Augustus, and Zosie and Mary Shawano. The narrator and imaginative re-creator of those lives is Cally Whiteheart Beads Roy, descendant through various lines of several of those characters. Inevitably she is a central character in the story, though she focuses in her narration more on the life of her mother, Rozin. Central to The Antelope Wife is Rozin's stormy relationship with Cally's father, Richard Whiteheart Beads, and her delightful lover and eventual second husband, Frank Shawano. Also central to the novel is Sweetheart Calico, an antelope-related woman whom Klaus Shawano abducts and carries off to Minneapolis, where much ofthe present-day action of the novel takes place.

Some first-time readers will find The Antelope Wife to be somewhat experimental and confusing. It may help them to recall that Cally is less a conventional narrator than the imaginative re-creator of long-past events to which she has no direct access. She builds her story out of the interconnecting and sometimes contradictory stories she has heard, known about, or perhaps merely imagined may have happened to explain the history of events and characters who seem strange to her. For example, she knows Sweetheart Calico, a strange woman whose silence and unconventional actions suggest, to her namesake Cally, that she may be part antelope. It may be then, that to explain her modern-day actions, Cally re-creates for her an ancestry that goes back to Matilda, the child of Blue Prairie Woman and the original antelope wife, who had herself run with the deer after her mother's death. Similarly, the chapters narrated by a dog may make most sense as Cally's attempt to imagine what a canine narrator would say if it had the power of speech. On the first page, Cally announces that what she tells is "fading in the larger memory," and that she wants to tell it "that it not be lost." She tells us near the end that "I was sent here to understand and to report."

The Antelope Wife is finally a challenging and comic novel, not only in the sense that there is much humor in it, but also that the two unhappy wives, Sweetheart Calico and Rozin, both achieve happiness by gaining freedom from oppressively controlling husbands.

Topics for Discussion
1. How is Scranton Roy able to suckle a baby? What does his ability to do so suggest about Erdrich's view of gender roles? How is Scranton's act different from Blue Prairie Woman's suckling of a puppy? Is Scranton's ability to lactate meant to be a realistic or a magical act? Are the male characters in this novel realistically portrayed, or are they, as one scholar has suggested, merely pasteboard cutout figures?

2. Does Erdrich give us enough information that we can reconstruct Cally's family tree sufficiently that we can see why she says, on page 110, "I am a Roy, a Whiteheart Beads, a Shawano by way of the Roy and Shawano proximity"? Can we trace her back to Scranton Roy? To Blue Prairie Woman? To Josephette and Mary Shawano?

3. What is the effect of having Almost Soup narrate two of the chapters? Why, for example, does Erdrich have this dog in Chapter 9 tell the story of Cally's near-death? How would the story be different if Cally's mother Rozin had narrated that chapter? Is the dog narration part of a larger pattern of erasing the sharp boundaries between humans and other species? What do you make of the last sentence on page 73, that humans are "no more and no less important than the deer"?

4. You will notice that Sweetheart Calico says almost nothing in the entire text. Why is that? When she finally does say something, what does she say, and why that? Why does Erdrich make her the "antelope wife"?

5. Why do we have several sets of twins in the novel? What difference would it have made if all of those twins had been single births?

6. Interspersed throughout the novel are several phrases and sentences in other languages, particularly German and Ojibwa. Do they contribute in some way to the story?

7. Several motifs and images are repeated: broken teeth, cloth, sewing and beads, food and cooking, etc. Choose one and explain why Erdrich used it in The Antelope Wife.

8. What is the point of the blitzkuchen story? What seems to be the secret ingredient that Frank has been searching for?

9. On page 115, humor is said to be "an Indian's seventh sense." Is The Antelope Wife a humorous novel? Does it suggest in less direct ways that we should never take life so seriously that we forget to laugh? Why does Erdrich give us the humor of Chapter 7 (the story of Almost Soup's escape from the stew pot) immediately after the devastating story of Deanna's asphyxiation in Chapter 6?

10. On page 174, an unnamed uncle at the "Kamikaze wedding" states "We all got to suffer. That's love." Although he is speaking specifically to Richard, Cally's rejected father, is this statement meant more generally?

11. Erdrich could have written a simple novel. Why do you think she make it so complex? Is anything gained by having represented so many generations, races, tribes, species in one novel?

12. The Antelope Wife contains many references to the "pattern" made with the "beads." What larger patterns gradually emerge as the many lives and stories in the novel unfold and intertwine? On page 200, Cally says "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." What pattern or patterns are set and replicated? Does the novel suggest, fatalistically, that we can never break the patterns our past has set for us?

About the Author: Louise Erdrich is one of the most gifted, prolific, and challenging of contemporary Native American novelists. Born in 1954 in Little Falls, Minnesota, she grew up mostly in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where her parents taught at Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. Her fiction reflects aspects of her mixed heritage: German through her father, and French and Ojibwa through her mother. She worked at various jobs, such as hoeing sugar beets, farm work, waitressing, short order cooking, lifeguarding, and construction work, before becoming a writer. She attended the Johns Hopkins creative writing program and received fellowships at the McDowell Colony and the Yaddo Colony. After she was named writer-in-residence at Dartmouth, she married professor Michael Dorris and raised several children, some of them adopted. She and Michael became a picture-book husband-and-wife writing team, though they wrote only one truly collaborative novel, The Crown of Columbus (1991).

The Antelope Wife was published in 1998, not long after her separation from Michael and his subsequent suicide. Some reviewers believed they saw in The Antelope Wife the anguish Erdrich must have felt as her marriage crumbled, but she has stated that she is unconscious of having mirrored any real-life events.

She is the author of four previous bestselling and award-winning novels, including Love Medicine; The Beet Queen; Tracks; and The Bingo Palace. She also has written two collections of poetry, Jacklight, and Baptism of Desire. Her fiction has been honored by the National Book Critics Circle (1984) and The Los Angeles Times (1985), and has been translated into fourteen languages.

Several of her short stories have been selected for O. Henry awards and for inclusion in the annual Best American Short Story anthologies. The Blue Jay's Dance, a memoir of motherhood, was her first nonfiction work, and her children's book, Grandmother's Pigeon, has been published by Hyperion Press. She lives in Minnesota with her children, who help her run a small independent bookstore called The Birchbark.

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 2, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Louise Erdrich is a superb word craftsman, and Antelope Wife will not disappoint the reader on that account.

    Readers who have little experience with life on the rez may not appreciate the wonder Louise Erdrich has created, but this novel is honest and up-front. What she writes about does happen, and the clarity of her story brings those events back to life with an immediacy that keeps pages turning. This doesn't mean you have to like the characters, or avoid chiding them and then celebrating them in their choices. It does mean that beside a really good story, Erdrich has given the reader an inside glimpse into life on the rez and the hold those ways of life have on the people who grow up there and leave to try and find better lives.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 5, 2012

    Driven, a great novel

    As ussual, Erdich's characters try to spin and twist their way through or around inescapable hurdles. The author is bluntly honest in presenting humans as they are, difficult, lovable, troublesome, stong here and ever so weak there. Her stories are hillarious and yet often enough tradgic. Life is tough, but a good sense of humor can see us through. I love her detailed inclussion of multiple generations. The world view of Elders at the time of ealry treaties, and the changing views of the later ones who went to Indian Boarding schools, and their children and grandchildren. Great liturature like this and her other books help preserve and promote American Indigenous cultures within the context of the newer, larger society. Migwetch - Thank you Louise Erdrich.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2013

    Great book.

    Wonderful and rich characters. Loved this book!

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    Posted April 23, 2011

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    Posted October 28, 2009

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    Posted January 13, 2009

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    Posted July 18, 2011

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