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The Antelope Wife

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Past and present combine in a contemporary tale of love and betrayal influenced by Chippewa tradition, myth and legend. 'Everything is all knotted up in a tangle. Pull one string of this family and the whole web will tremble.' Rozin and Richard, living in Minneapolis with their two young daughters, seem a long way from the traditions of their Native American ancestors. But when one of their acquaintances kidnaps a strange and silent young woman from a Native American camp and brings her back to live with him as his wife, the connections they all hold to the past rear up to confront them. Soon the patterns of their ancestors begin to repeat themselves with truly tragic consequences. No one is better placed than Louise Erdrich to chronicle the Native American experience, and in 'The Antelope Wife,, she has created an utterly compelling portrait of three generations of one family, who are more closely linked than they could ever imagine. Shrouded in myth and steeped in imagery, this is also a tale of heartbreaking realism which manages to retain a warm and irrepressible humour and belief in the resilience of the human spirit.

256 pages, Paperback

First published March 10, 1998

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About the author

Louise Erdrich

135 books9,686 followers
Karen Louise Erdrich is a American author of novels, poetry, and children's books. Her father is German American and mother is half Ojibwe and half French American. She is an enrolled member of the Anishinaabe nation (also known as Chippewa). She is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant Native writers of the second wave of what critic Kenneth Lincoln has called the Native American Renaissance.

For more information, please see http://www.answers.com/topic/louise-e...

From a book description:

Author Biography:

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 andaward-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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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 435 reviews
Profile Image for Carl R..
Author 6 books26 followers
May 9, 2012
It’s human nature to want people to like what you like, but when they resist, pointing to reasons they should like it is like explaining a joke. No laughing, no liking. Such it is with my friend and Louise Erdrich. I’m a HUGE fan of Louise. I consider her among the top five living writers in the country, perhaps the top ten in the world. If you took the trouble, as few do, to scroll through the archives of writerworking.net, you’d see how highly I regard her work and why. Yet, I hadn’t read the 1997 work The Antelope Wife. When my friend, who has never warmed to Louise for some reason, was assigned Antelope in a class and said “didn’t like it,” I of course had to dig in.
Now I’m not going to claim that this is equal to masterpieces like The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse (See my Dec, 2006 commentary.) or The Master Butcher’s Singing Club. However, it’s an intense, mystifying, and life-affirming read. I’ll admit there are some weak places--an unfortunate gag scene with stick-on gift bows that nearly sinks to sitcom level, for example; and an equally unfortunate sequence from the point of view of a dog named (for obvious reasons) Almost Soup. However, who can resist writing like this?
“Dusted all over like an egg with freckles, Peace McKnight. . .was sturdily made as a captain’s chair, yet drew water with graceful wrists and ran dancing across the rutted mud on curved white ankles. . . . At night, the kerosene lamplight in trembling rings and haloes, Miss Peace McKnight felt the eyes of Scranton Roy carve her in space.”
Stuff like that all the way through. Like most of Erdrich’s work, Antelope Wife’s chronology is disjointed, a metaphor, I believe for the non-liner, organic way we experience time and life. Events from the beginning of the more than one hundred years of the book’s history appear in the final pages, events from the late nineteen nineties appear in the beginning. And the sequences are jumbled in between. In this case, she makes the metaphor concrete with two broken strings of beads--one of blue stones, the other of red, so that the scatter of events is matched by the scattering of the beads. Ditto with the treatment of characters. Again, this mixture of time and space and people is usual for Erdrich, but here she complicates it even more with duplicate names. There are three generations of twin girls with identical names, and we’re often not quite sure which generation we’re reading about. This confusion is neither accidental nor is it literary trickery. It echoes life’s difficulty in stringing together the scattered elements of life.
The book begins with a cavalry nineteenth-century raid/massacre on a defenseless Indian village. Scranton Roy (mentioned above in the quoted description) is a soldier who commits an atrocity during that raid, then performs a humanitarian act of equal weight in saving the life of an infant who is carried away on the back of frightened dog. By the time he catches up with the dog, he is far away from the village and his unit and he never goes back. Still, the humanitarian act turns into an atrocity when he from one point of view saves the child and gives it a home, from another point of view steals the child from its mother and people. This Hegleian interaction of good and evil, animal/human continues throughout the book and down through the generations that Scranton Roy begets.
The above summary is way too prosaic, though, for it leaves out the element of magic. Many authors cross into the fantastical, but Erdrich lives there. A father nurses two children. Girls are raised by antelope and deer. People stare into rivers and find themselves swimming with underwater spirits. It also leaves out the comedy, of which there is plenty. Ribald, profane, dangerous, and deeply serious comedy of the kind that makes you laugh while people die naked.
If you want to read this for the history or sociology, there’s plenty of that, too. You’ll find a depiction of the Native American migration to and from the cities and the interaction between reservation Indians and urban ones. Louise even brings the Hmong into the mix, one of the latest additions to the incredible racial stew we are preparing in America.
Throughout, despite the horrible things people do to one another, the women sew constantly, threading the beads of their lives and culture into taut strings, making patterns of the loose beads, trying to make sense of the the “. . . longing [that] makes us do the things that we should not. Even longing for the good. For loive. Longing is the bliss of thieves that getting kills.”
I don’t suppose this will make my friend like the book any better, but maybe it will convince her it has more worth than she first thought.
Profile Image for El.
1,355 reviews503 followers
September 25, 2016
At first when I picked up this book, I didn't know what I was getting into. The first few pages of the novel feel disjointed, I couldn't quite tell whose perspective I was reading at any given time. It took me a while to get on board with Erdrich's 1997 novel which turns out to be fucking spectacular.

If you like Magical Realism. I feel the need to point that out early on enough in my review so those who are opposed to that classification can skim this review since it may not be appealing to all.

I'm not always into Magical Realism either, but when it works, it works. And this one works.

The story follows the Roy and Shawano families over however many years. I hesitate to call it an epic, because as far as "epics" go, this is a short novel (less than 250 pages). But Erdrich manages to include so much family history without going overboard. All of their stories are here, but in lyrical, glorious passages teeming with Native American mythology and symbols. I absolutely loved that.

There is a section told from the point of view of a dog. Dogs have voices and can speak to each other in Erdrich's novel, though it's not a frequent practice. It's just another part of the family mythology.

I thought more than once about Leslie Marmon Silko's Almanac of the Dead that I read not that long ago, and where Silko's novel is much larger, denser, and more violent, Erdrich covers a lot of the same ground in fewer pages and less violence. I felt a connection to Erdrich's characters that I did not always feel towards some of Silko's. But I'm not here to compare and contrast the two novels, and if you disliked Almanac of the Dead (WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU), that doesn't mean you would dislike The Antelope Wife.

It's hard for me to discuss the story because I feel I would just be copying down all of Erdrich's words. A review can't give the book justice because a part of experiencing this book is reading Erdrich's lyrical voice. There's not a lot of dialogue so it's a very internalized story - we are in the minds of the characters more often than not. This is not always easy to do; I have easily complained about other books that attempt and fail at that. Erdrich does not fail, nor does she disappoint.

I recommend trying to read as much as you can when you do sit down with this. As previously stated, it took me a while to get into the groove of the writing and therefore missed where the story started. It's easy to put down because the sections are so short, but I found a higher appreciation for three-fourths of the novel once I committed to reading it as much as possible, and not putting it down every section.

This won't be my last Erdrich.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,976 followers
January 8, 2020
I'm working my way through award winners, sight unseen, and this one happens to be one of them. I didn't know what to expect except that it was probably one of a long line of the new breed of Magical Realism.

What makes it special? Well, I LOVE the whole Twins theme going on. White beads and black, indeed. Mix this with a very large sense of time, weaving in and out of Native American history up near Minneapolis, mixing Germans into the mix, some dog ancestry (separate from the humans, thank you very much,) and we've got a tale that slides across a couple of hundred years.

The magic is mild, the characters are sometimes very interesting, but above all, the core theme is the mixing of cultures. It's the mixing of whole lives, for good or ill.

I totally recommend this for anyone who is interested in diverse cultures, who like to have a different kind of read from the usual fare, and who like a bit of poetry woven into a worldview. I honestly had a pretty good time with this. It FELT magical even when there wasn't all that much magic going on. It got me out of my skin.

Oh, and the times we were in a dog's PoV was pretty awesome. :)
Profile Image for Amy.
390 reviews40 followers
April 5, 2016
The Antelope Wife combines Native mysticism and legend with the multi-generational stories of the Roy and Shawano families. Linked by one woman, she will bring their destinies full circle.

Written in lyrical prose and infused with haunting imagery, the story alternates between grief and acceptance, with a rare glimpse of joy.

I only started to enjoy the book about halfway through. The characters and stories before that come and go quickly and with little ceremony, which made it hard to figure out who or what to invest in. However, there were family members in the second half which I really came to care for.

Erdrich writes family so well. She is really able to get into their hearts and souls and convey their thoughts and feelings to the reader. Characters have their own true voices and are consistent to their traits.

3.5 and a good read.
Profile Image for Sarah.
732 reviews73 followers
July 22, 2017
The best part of this book is the dog's perspective in this scene:

I learned early. Eat anything you can at any time. Fast. Bolt it down. Stay cute, but stay elusive. Don't let them think twice when they've got the hatchet out. I see cold steel, I'm gone. Believe it. And there are all sorts of illnesses we dread. Avoid the bite of the fox. It is madness. Avoid all bats. Avoid all black-and-white-striped moving objects. And slow things with spiny quills. Avoid all the humans when they get into a feasting mood. Get near the tables fast, though, once the food is cooked. Stay close to their feet. Stay ready.

But don't steal from their plates.

Avoid medicine men. Snakes. boys with BB guns. Anything ropelike or easily used to hang or tie. Avoid outhouse holes. Cats that live indoors. Do not sleep under cars. Or with horses. Do not eat anything attached to a skinny, burning string. Do not eat lard from the table. Do not go into the house at all unless no one is watching. Do not, unless you are absolutely certain you can blame it on the cat, eat any of their chickens. Do not eat pies. Do not eat decks of cards, plastic jugs, dry beans, dish sponges. If you must eat a shoe, eat both of the pair, every scrap, untraceable. Always, when in doubt, the rule is you are better off underneath the house. Don't chase cars driven by young teenage boys. Don't chase cars driven by old ladies. Don't bark or growl at men cradling rifles. Don't get wet in winter, and don't let yourself dry out when the hot winds of August blow. We're not equipped to sweat. Keep your mouth open. Visit the lake. Pee often. Take messages from tree stumps and the corners of buildings. Don't forget to leave in return a polite and respectful hello. You never know when it will come in handy, your contact, your friend. You never know whom you will need to rely upon.
Profile Image for Book Concierge.
2,770 reviews332 followers
June 13, 2019
Digital audio read by the author.

From the book jacket: “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,” writes Louise Erdrich in The Antelope Wife, her sixth novel. Rooted in the landscape of city life, yet continually influenced by the power of Ojibwa family, the intricacies of Ojibwa language and religious belief, this book extends the branches of the families who populate Erdrich’s work and reflects the irrevocable patterns set in motion by certain fateful acts.

My reactions
I just have to say that Erdrich is one of my favorite writers. Her prose is luminous and poetic. Her use of magical realism seamless. It reminds me of listening to my grandparents, aunts and uncles tell stories of family lore, sitting on a dark porch of a summer evening. I would be entranced by their stories and the images they painted found their way into my dreams and into the very fiber of my being.

The novel weaves history, contemporary urban life, legend, and sacred myth into a marvelous tapestry of a story. There is violence, and lust, and tenderness to break your heart. There is birth and death, humor and tragedy, betrayal and forgiveness, broken people scattered on the battlefield of life, and others standing tall and moving forward.

I want to go back and read it again.

While Erdrich frequently uses characters over and over again in her novels, you can really read any of them as a stand-alone work. This novel was first published in 1998, and reissued in 2016 as Antelope Woman.

I was excited to get an audio read by Erdrich. The poetry of her language really comes out in her performance. HOWEVER … I realized too late that this was an abridged version. No wonder I felt that I would better enjoy the novel if I read the text … which I did.
Profile Image for Michele.
148 reviews11 followers
February 21, 2014
I hoped that I would like this book, but it was too fragmented, disjointed. It had great potential to be a reflective and philosophical journey, but ultimately the points didn't connect... the kidnapped antelope-woman Sweetheart Calico was supposed to be the link that connected all the events and characters of the book, but it just didn't hold water. I didn't have a single emotional connection with the story or characters during any point of the book.

Considering the treading into the spiritual and the darker sides of life (kidnapping, divorce, homelessness), I was surprised how little meaning or sense these events imparted. I'm a bit disappointed with my first Louise Erdich novel, but I thought the writing was mostly good so I might read her again.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
212 reviews26 followers
December 27, 2013
Beautiful. At times, it takes me a while to slow down enough as a reader to appreciate Erdrich - when I do, it is always rewarding. I keep reading her novels in snatches, here and there, and because they are so entwined, I know there is a lot I am probably missing. I would like to eventually reread everything of hers I've ever picked up, in succession.
Profile Image for Mosca.
86 reviews12 followers
March 6, 2009
Louise Erdrich's works seem woven with textures of destinies, families, and histories. This book is no exception.

Frequently painful to read because of the emotional damage inherited by and inflicted by the characters in this tale, this book is nonetheless a rewarding experience because of the human redemption achieved by a few key members of this tangled family web.

The melodic and mystical prose guides the reader through worlds of tragedy, comedy, damnation, and salvation. Although not religous, these worlds are deeply spiritual in a most physically human way.

"The Antelope Wife" is another masterful experience by one of our best writers.
Profile Image for Allie Riley.
405 reviews134 followers
September 4, 2017
Erdrich strikes again with her usual heady mix of poetic prose and magical realism. I just love her writing. This particular novel took a little while to get going for me and I did find myself struggling to work out exactly who was who for a bit. (I could have done with a family tree to refer to!) I think I just about worked it out in the end, though. Fabulous stuff, as ever. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for pennyg.
654 reviews20 followers
June 8, 2022
A beautifully written metaphor, fable, surreal trip through the history of a native American family as their land and life are stolen by and are still connected to white settlers. It is also humorous and, at times, cleverly slipping into magical realism. Even though the reader journeys through many generations, there is hardly a plot, more character study or vignettes than novel.

I found the first half of the book intriguing, the writing lovely, looking very much like a five star read. But the book began to loose its appeal in the second half. Kidnapping was a reoccurring theme and the humor I found clever in the first half, began to devolve into something that was not to my taste. I'm sure much was meant as metaphor; the present coming full circle with the past but it bumped it down to a three star for me.

As I understand it, this is a republication with a bit of a renaming and rewrite. I've not read the original so I can't speak to the comparison. The gorgeous cover depicting The Blue Antelope Woman was beautifully created by the author's daughter.
Profile Image for Jeanne.
961 reviews68 followers
October 25, 2019
Antelope Woman is a difficult book to review, as Antelope Woman is lyrical and magical (in all definitions of the word). It spans seven generations and includes two cultures that don't really understand each other (Ojibwe and mostly urban Whites), although the Whites often admire the Ojibwe and sometimes vice versa. There are three sets of twins who are frequently difficult to distinguish, and three species (humans, antelopes, and dogs). Antelope Woman doesn't talk out loud, but she does "speak" clearly: I am lost, her look says. I don’t know how I got here. (p. 106). The dog, Almost Soup (who was, erm, you guessed it), is a funny narrator in his sections:

I learned early. Eat anything you can at any time. Fast. Bolt it down. Stay cute, but stay elusive. Don’t let them think twice when they’ve got the hatchet out. I see cold steel, I’m gone. Believe it. And there are all sorts of illnesses we dread. Avoid the bite of the fox. It is madness. Avoid all bats. Avoid all black-and-white-striped moving objects. And slow things with spiny quills. Avoid all humans when they get into a feasting mood. Get near the tables fast, though, once the food is cooked. Stay close to their feet. Stay ready.

But don’t steal from their plates.
(p. 180).

In sum, Antelope Woman is a fascinating, often-joyful read about often-difficult things: genocide (both of people and culture), kidnapping, cultural appropriation, relocations, and bondage, but also love in many of its flavors. Who, for example, was entrapped? Antelope Woman or her kidnapper?

But in my heart, I knew I was already caught. The best hunter allows his prey to lead, not the other way around. That hunter doesn’t force himself to figure and track, just lets himself be drawn to the meeting. That’s what I did. (p. 91).

Villain and victim are not clearly different. One can have good intent and make mistakes or bad intent and things work out well: and then there was a new government policy designed in the kindest way to make things worse (p. 79).

Life as drawn in Antelope Woman is often different, confusing, and surprising. Generations and stories are interconnected, as are senses. Numbers have colors, as do emotions. Names contain and transform what is named. Wednesday, for example, in the Ojibwe language is Aabitoose, that is Halfway Day:

If it was All the Way Day things might have gone much differently. But Rozin walks only halfway into the downstairs apartment. The dog, too, halfway in. Then it settles on the floor. Sweetheart Calico is halfway glad to get home. The twins, Cally and Deanna, do halfway well at school and make it halfway home on the bus before they sort of fight and pretty much make up. Rozin halfway wants to quit work as usual, but does not. Klaus and Richard work hard and the barn is half full when they leave. Unfortunately at home the meat is halfway cooked because the electricity has gone out and the Crock-Pot is cold when Rozin touches it. Then Richard and Klaus are cleaning up at the same time and you can hear them yell halfway through their showers when cold water hits their skin. (p. 107)

The grandmas call Minneapolis, where much of the story occurs, Mishiimin Oodenang, Apple Town, because Minneapolis sounds like Many Apple Us. My grandfathers, neither of whom were Ojibwe, would have loved this wordplay.

Antelope Woman is a rewrite/update of Louise Erdrich's Antelope Wife, which I haven't read. I like the idea of a novel being a living being that can be updated by the original author. Fiction often experiences retellings in oral traditions and also in published works, but generally by other writers.

I really should reread Antelope Woman, as I'm sure I missed much (or perhaps read the original). I will. Sometime.
Profile Image for Leah.
803 reviews42 followers
September 25, 2018
A multi-generational story that blends Native beliefs with issues like domestic abuse, alcoholism, and suicide, to name only a few. The whole dynamic of clashing cultures, especially the internal struggles of urban Natives, fascinated me; it's something I hadn't yet been exposed to in my reading.

"Some bloods they go together like water--the French Ojibwas: You mix those up and it is all one person. Like me. Others are a little less predictable. You make a person from a German and an Indian, for instance, and you're creating a two-souled warrior always fighting with themself."

I loved the frame of the sewing twins which identified the four parts of the story (fate and destiny; beginnings and endings). I loved how the story unfolded, moving back and forth through time, almost a mystery to solve, until the end when we step back from the individual strands and finally see how the two families are interwoven as one living, fluid tapestry. And I appreciated that - amidst all the sadness, loss, betrayal, and tragedy - hope, forgiveness, second chances permeated the story's lifeblood.

The Antelope Wife was my first experience with Erdrich's stories and I look forward to reading more of her works.

4 stars

"From what I understand, the rays killed the tumor and also zapped his funny bone. He kept his taste, touch, sense of smell, and so on, but he lost an Indian's seventh sense. He lost his sense of humor. Now he is the only Indian alive without one."

"Windigo. Bad spirit of hunger and not just normal hunger but out-of-control hunger. Hunger of impossible devouring."

"When the ogitchida came home from the land of the frog people he was strange, but that is often how warriors are when they return. 1945. End of the war. So many spirits out, wandering."
Profile Image for Jalilah.
374 reviews91 followers
January 4, 2018
I loved this novel which is both magical and realistic. This is the first time I've read anything from Louise Erdrich. I really appreciate her style and the way she combines myth and reality. A very thought provoking read! I am looking forward to reading more books from her.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
1,403 reviews77 followers
July 8, 2020
3.5 rounded up

Not my favourite Erdrich, but still featuring her beautiful writing, character development, mix of heartbreaking and quirky scenes, and interwoven narratives. She's fantastic, don't sleep on her! This one was more spiritual and mythical than some of her other stories and I enjoyed how she explored that kind of narrative. There is Ojibwe spirituality, myth, and belief in many of her other books, but this was a more focused, direct portrayal.
18 reviews
June 17, 2010
I haven't read Louise Erdrich in years, but this book reminded me why she was once one of my favorite authors. It's difficult to describe her books--and they aren't for everybody--but this one reads like a vivid dream. Reality and folklore intermingle and time is not-linear, so it is often difficult to know if you are in the past or present. There is not necessarily a plot, but the book evokes a mood and captures all those feelings we deal with as humans. Her prose is so lyrical that it is nearly poetic, and the images she creates for her reader are lasting. I feel like I'd need to read this one many times to "get it," and it probably wouldn't hurt to go back and re-read some of her earlier work because these are many of the same characters she has already written about.

The other thing I love about Erdrich is how she undermines the classic "Native American" stereotype. Her characters are definitely impacted by their tribal culture, but they are equally influenced by mainstream America and their European heritages. A typical Erdrich character is an Indian baker raised on the rez but living in the city, trying to master a German cake recipe. She pushes the boundaries and doesn't allow her reader to place any characters in a box. She definitely makes you think and feel. A great read.
Profile Image for Elizabeth (Alaska).
1,287 reviews423 followers
February 10, 2017
At the beginning, I thought this not up to my usual expectation of Erdrich. Somewhere she reached into my soul and it became quite extraordinary. I kept thinking "this is magical realism, but I don't like magical realism." It is so much more. Many of her people have more than the usual 5 senses. It isn't easy to explain. They are of the earth, completely of it, and know what lies within and beyond it. This sounds unreal, but it is not.

Having said that, it is important to recognize they are, in fact, humans with human frailties. Mistakes are made and burdens borne. Who will ever understand the misery love causes? Yes, this is a story of love, but not just the misery this question suggests. Love comes from family, is deeply felt and shared.

If you have never read Erdrich, I might suggest this not be your first. I have not yet read her more recent fiction, but I think you might as well start with her first, and most well-read, Love Medicine.
814 reviews3 followers
August 15, 2009
Some beautiful writing in here, although unless you're paying attention you will definitely miss things. The cast of characters is large, and it is difficult to keep track of all of them, especially when the narration skips between generations at will, without signposting or explicit time shifts. This book probably bears another read.
Profile Image for reading is my hustle.
1,482 reviews291 followers
September 21, 2012
So many layers to this book. Multiple narrators. Family stories. Legends. And, all come together like a puzzle in the end. Meanwhile, the women are FEROCIOUS. Bad Ass. True Free Spirits. Damn.

Louise Erdrich, you got skillz.
Profile Image for John Pistelli.
Author 8 books264 followers
November 11, 2020
A fundamental conflict in modern literature: there is, on the one hand, Yeats summoning the gods to Dublin in revolt and Morrison defending the honor of colonized and subjugated peoples' "discredited knowledge"; on the other hand, we have Joyce's carnivelesque mockery of all attempts to mythicize modern politics and Nabokov's denunciation of "regional literature, artificial folklore."

In the first case, the writer resists a bludgeoning and imperial modernity by pitting against it the very metaphysical forces it seeks to extirpate; for the second set of writers, by contrast, all myths, those of the colonizers and those of the colonized alike, are fictions, impositions redeemable only insofar as they may serve as the playthings of an ironical artificer.

In practice, all the writers I named are at once irresistibly attracted to the myths and committed to the irony inherent to complex literary forms, yet the belief that a revived magic may resist the march of imperial reason does divide them. The magical realists vs. the ironists, who expose all magic and all realism as sham and imposture.

Louise Erdrich, for her part, is clear enough in several passages of Antelope Woman about the magical realist's enemies. First, capitalism and its assault on the commons:
Because of the Dawes Act, reservation land was parceled out to individuals instead of remaining in tribal trust possession. Land was the only thing that hungry people owned, and it started to disappear with astounding haste.
Then the idea of progress, with its inherent bias toward eliminating elements it considers backward and reactionary:
The walls were paneled with ancient oak worked into scenes of progress. There were wagons, valiant pioneers, oxen, plows, trains of course. As the Americans advanced counterclockwise around the great waiting room, Indians melted away before them…
Finally, the idea that time is both linear and divisible, the idea upon which all subsequent imperial progressions and capitalist allotments depends:
Although the Ojibwe never had a special day to pray until mission and boarding schools taught how you could slack off the rest of the week, Sunday now has its name. Praying Day.
The novel, first published as The Antelope Wife in 1998 and in this retitled revision in 2016, resists the ideology of progress with a twisting and recursive narrative and resists the ideology of individualism with a family saga plot whose characters, including spouses and lovers, humans and animals, are all related by blood. Plains Indian beadwork is the novel's model for art; a myth humming in the novel's background pictures the cosmos as beaded into existence by rivalrous twin sisters, one adding dark and the other light, each trying to overturn the balance of good and evil. Unlike other authors in the feminist/multiculturalist counter-canon, there's little moralism in Erdrich: she knows that the progressive dream of eliminating evil—yes, even evils like racism or rape—is at one with the eliminationist dreams of those who led the march of progress across the Plains that trampled indigenous America.

Antelope Woman begins in racism: a Quaker Union soldier named Scranton Roy soldier slaughters an old woman during a general massacre of the Ojibwe in the 1860s, before his remorse causes him to follow a child carried on a sled by dogs from the massacre. In the novel's first instance of magic, he rescues the child and nurses it. Meanwhile, the child's mourning mother tries to overcome her sorrow by nursing a dog before she bears the novel's first set of twins to a man named Shawano. The soldier's son will later marry the twins, and they will have the children whose descendants populate this most populous novel.

One of those descendants, in the present, is possessed by wiindigoo love and commits the novel's act of rape, in the etymological and in the modern sense, when he kidnaps a woman at a powwow and takes her back with him to urban Minneapolis, where he is living with more descendants of the Roy/Shawano family. This rapt woman, Calico Sweetheart, proves eventually to be our eponymous heroine, the scion of the 1860s massacre's child survivor and an antelope: she is a speechless and ensorcelling hybrid of woman and animal stalking the modern city, which, despite its modernity, harbors more twins, more talking animals, and more overall magic. Two present-day characters, also Roy/Shawano descendants, half-white and half-Indian, connected to tradition through their grandmothers but tied by economics to urbane modernity, discuss the problem the novel with which we began:
"We developed as a people over many thousands of years. Our culture. Our ways. Our adaptations. Then all of a sudden in one generation—wham. Warp-speed acculturation. And now we're the products of two cultures. Something happened in our family that cannot be explained by the culture we live in now. When our mothers tell the stories they heard from their grandmothers and great-grandmothers, we listen and nod as if we think the stories are true. But we don't think they're true."
The novel's narrator, by the way, is a dog—a descendant of the dog nursed by the mourning Ojibwe mother in the opening chapters. Proficient in dirty jokes and metafictional reflections, this narrator, who literally offers history from below, is capable too of Erdrich's lyrical-mythical style: "The world halted. There sounded a great gong made of sky. A gasp. Silence.” This kind of rhetoric sits in Antelope Woman without blushing beside passages of Carveresque naturalist desperation as well as of cute sitcom dialogue and broad comic set-ups. In one scene, a woman trying to surprise her man on his birthday instead greets an entire surprise party while wearing nothing but stick-on bows on her nipples; in another an old woman accidentally sprays her granddaughters' glitter on her vulva while preparing for a gynecologist appointment.

Erdrich, in short, negotiates the divide outlined in my first paragraph above by ignoring it. She is mythical when she wants to be, realist when she needs to be, and carnivalesque as the mood strikes her. Modern or postmodern disenchantment doesn't defeat spiritual tradition, but, by undermining the presumptions of reason and coherence, becomes its matrix in the modern novel. The twin-beset family of her family saga is mixed—they are part white and part Ojibwe; they practice some Ojibwe traditions, hold some Christian beliefs, celebrate some American holidays, and read some pagan European authors of antiquity. Of the Iliad, a character comments:
"We're just like those people, never knowing what the gods or the government is going to do to us next".
The federal government is mocked and derided throughout the novel; unlike other American minority groups, Native Americans perhaps have a harder time seeing the state as guard and guarantor of rights. But the American Indian Movement is queried, too, for what Erdrich portrays as its swaggering masculinism. Calico Sweetheart is both a female victim of male predation and a supernal threat in her own right. The world is dark and light. Why should a novel not seek the same balance of opposites?

Some of this book's mythical passages are too portentous—magical realism to the point of self-parody—and some of its gritty realism passes into staginess, as in the aforementioned bawdy sitcom scenes. It is also a problem that the novel can find no verbal register between the mythical moments' overheated "litfic" lyricism and the realist chapters' slangy YA breeziness. All the same, I respect Erdrich's commitment to living the world's contradictions in a fiction than knows it's a fiction rather than trying to give them some forced and false resolution that would dare call itself the absolute truth.
Profile Image for Barbara Carter.
Author 10 books52 followers
January 13, 2022
This is the first book I’ve read by this author, having only learned this author exists!
The reason I discovered her is that after reading Astra by Cedar Bowers, I read some online interviews, and in one she listed her favourite writers. Louise Erdrich, one of them.
So, I check this e-book out of the local library.
It is not a light read. And there are graphic, violent scenes.
But the writing is very lyrical. Poetic. Symbolic.

Page 101 of the book
I would go back, if I could, unweave the pattern of destruction. Take it all apart occurrence by slow event. But how can you pick up the strands of all you might have changed and all you couldn’t?

The book weaves back and forth through past and present.
Grief. Loss.

On page 160: All of our actions have in their doing the seed of their undoing.

Page 507: Family stories repeat themselves in patterns and waves generation to generation.

Those quotes sum up a lot of what the book is about.

Profile Image for Sarah.
124 reviews6 followers
September 23, 2020
louise erdrich is maybe in my top 5 of contemporary american writers and this book, while not my favorite or maybe her strongest, proves that just by it's structure and strangeness and vision. so so good.
Profile Image for Ainsley.
42 reviews
June 15, 2022
what a treat! so magical and intricate i think you just gotta read it to understand!

fave quote:
“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. Here on the handle the vines and leaves of infidelities. There, a suicidal tendency, a fatal wish. On this side drinking. On the other a repression of guilt that finally explodes. I study it now in my classes, work the meaning of it out at home. From way back our destinies form. I’m trying to see the old patterns in myself and the people I love.”
Profile Image for Lisabet Sarai.
Author 175 books166 followers
December 15, 2022
More poetry than prose.

More a riddle than a story.

But gorgeous in its imagery and lush in its emotional echoes.
Profile Image for Kitty G Books.
1,551 reviews2,937 followers
November 19, 2020
DNF. This one I wanted to love but it felt eat too disjointed for me and so I ended up not getting too far. I think it had potential, but only if you don't mind beginnings which don't make a while lot of sense and magical realism.
Profile Image for Andy Miller.
824 reviews53 followers
September 13, 2015
This novel shares some aspects of Erdrich's "Love Medicine" which is one of my top ten novels of all time. The chapters alternate perspectives from different characters, the chapters span several generations and intertwine the different character's lives. But perhaps excessive dabbling in "magical realism" that was not as prevalent in Love Medicine, detracted from character development and plot.

The novel starts with the Plains Indians wars when a soldier participates in a massacre of woman and children and becomes haunted with guilt leading him to rescue an infant girl who was being spirited away from the massacre by her family dog. When still a young girl she is reconnected with her mother who soon dies leaving the girl to be raised by a heard of antelope. Generations later Klaus, a Native American trader, kidnaps who appears to be a descendant of the original Antelope wife and he keeps her despite the warnings of a medicine man. Klaus's family suffers for years

There are some great chapters, when Klaus's brother and his wife argue with the brother deciding to leave. One of their young twin daughters hears the argument and sneaks into her dad's pick up truck to hide so she can go with him, Erdich's writing anticipates what is going to happens but allows the reader to hope the expected narrative is wrong, but each step of the narrative, the truck being parked in a garage, the dad starting the truck, the dad deciding to go back to the house to get something, the second thoughts about leaving his wife bring the narrative and reader closer to a tragic end

A more positive but equally compelling chapter is a first person narrative from a dog, describing how he avoids death as a puppy by deliberately using puppy charm and then tells the role of a dog on an Indian Reservation and finally narrates the near death of the girl who had saved him as a puppy(the twin sister of the girl who died in the truck) and the dog's role in her redemption.

There is also great writing such as this paragraph that sets the stage why the cavalry soldier had left his home to go west and join the army despite his Quaker upbringing

"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 is 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"
Profile Image for Nannah.
471 reviews17 followers
December 16, 2015
DNF @ 7%

If you read the goodreads description of this book, it reveals nothing about why I absolutely cannot go farther than 7%. See, this is why I don't understand why books don't have the same content warnings as video games or movies. There's no reason why books/text are less graphic than visual mediums when you've experienced some kind of trauma or need to stay away from certain things.

Book content warnings (for as far as I got; there's possibly more):
- rape
- kidnapping
- emotional abuse

Basically, the chapter before I stopped, the POVs character (I won't say main because at this point it's not clear who exactly the main character is, if there is one at all) drugs a woman he calls his prey and drives away from the woman's daughters who he leaves sleeping in a tent. Then he drags this woman to his house, ties her up, and forces her to be his wife--and yells at her when her coping mechanisms make her less than perfect in his eyes!

As someone who has gone through things, I can't read on. I don't care if things don't ever return to this level of awfulness, but I have to put this down for my own personal sake. I wrote this all out so maybe someone else can save themselves the pain.
Profile Image for Michelle.
573 reviews36 followers
November 2, 2010
a floating, meandering dream of a tale that has beautiful moments, but ultimately fails to mesh together.

many members of a loosely connected group of ojibwa families meet, love, hate, and cross paths over the generations in the minneapolis area. some of these people are seers, who have to dream the names of the next generation; others are ordinary bakers who nourish this one. things that would be played for shock value (or at least dramatic climax) in a more mundane author's hands - a kidnapped woman shatters her teeth on a bathroom fixture while trying to flee, for example - happen in a near stream-of-unconsciousness acceptance. truly, few things i've ever read have come as close to a dream's feeling of strange things washing over you with barely a ripple as this novel.

apparently, though, i'm a bit too conventional in my tastes to really suffuse myself in this type of tale. there's no real WHY to this story, just the sense that you're getting a fragment of an endless dream. for all that this story has moments of amazing beauty and wonder, i need things to have more meaning or more cohesive purpose.
Profile Image for Mosca.
86 reviews12 followers
December 3, 2014

Review of the earlier edition is located Here


This second, short review of The Antelope Wife is written because this Revised Edition is almost a different book from the first.

And as superb a book as the original edition is.....this one is better.

It is true with all of Louise Erdrich books that the story is illuminated by the history of the "fictional" Ojibwe(Anishinaabe) Reservation in North Dakota. And, although the changes to the original plot line outcome are small in this Revised Edition, the enlarged, background labyrinth of history is so much more revealed that the overall impact is much more profound and powerful.

If you have already read and appreciated the original edition, please...do yourself a favor and also read this Revised Edition.

Louise Erdrich has outdone herself.
Profile Image for Maureen.
710 reviews40 followers
December 17, 2017
The lack of a fourth star is probably my fault. I suggest you read this slowly and contemplatively while awake and in the quiet. Also suggest you bring paper and pencil and diagram the characters. I have moved it into my permanent collection and would probably read it again after I have retired. Erdrich is one of my absolute favorite authors.
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