Picks and Pans Review: The Bingo Palace

updated 02/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/28/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Louise Erdrich

Ever since she first started writing about life on the Chippewa Reservation in North Dakota, Louise Erdrich has created one of the most compelling accounts of people and place in American fiction today. The Bingo Palace, her fourth volume in a series that began with the award-winning Love Medicine in 1984, adds to this complex portrait.

The Bingo Palace opens with the return to the reservation of Lipsha Morrissey, incurable dreamer and roustabout. His uncle, the reservation's entrepreneur, Lyman Lamartine, gives Lipsha a job sweeping out the bingo hall, a routine brightened only by his luck with a bingo card and his quest for Shawnee Ray Toose, a dancer who steals his heart the moment he sees her. That Shawnee might be Lyman's love, and is in fact the mother of his child, is of no real concern to Lipsha. She is unmarried, and he is brimming with ardor.

While Erdrich focuses on Lipsha's effort to edge out Lyman and convince Shawnee of his honorable intentions, she also provides snapshots of life on the reservation. Her poetic style graces the darkest moment, bringing a strange beauty to the most passionate and decisive scenes. When Lipsha, in despair, hurls a Bible across a room, it hits the stereo receiver and turns the radio to Jimi Hendrix blasting out "All Along the Watchtower."

In Erdrich's bittersweet world, humor often undercuts the most serious moment, and by knowing when to laugh, her characters are able to survive. (HarperCollins, $23)

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