There is nothing terribly wrong with this first joint effort by the separately celebrated husband (he's the author of A Yellow Raft in Blue Water and The Broken Cord) and wife (Love Medicine and The Beet Queen). But one expects their talents to add up to something more than this uneasy mix of scholarly exegesis and the picaresque—something like Romancing the Stone Meets Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Protagonist Vivian Twostar, who "belongs to the lost tribe of mixed bloods...Irish and Coeur d'Alene and Spanish and Navajo and God knows what else" is an assistant professor of anthropology at Dartmouth. She has an impossible teenage son, a short, fierce, disapproving, terrific grandmother and a lackadaisical approach to her push for tenure.
Vivian might be less lackadaisical but for the fact that any minute she is scheduled to give birth to a daughter, the product of her erstwhile romance with Roger Williams, an immaculately dressed, immaculately groomed, unbearably stuffy professor-poet who is writing an epic poem about Christopher Columbus. This is not a match made in heaven: Whereas Roger is diligent, Vivian is dilatory. He's uncomfortable with closeness, she wants commitment. They do have great sex.
When, in doing her own research on Columbus, Vivian stumbles on apparent fragments from the explorer's diary, she and Roger are hurled into a tumultuous adventure complete with con man, kidnapping, karate and caves.
Erdrich and Dorris ultimately can't decide what this book should be: an adventure romance, a thriller, a discourse on academic responsibility or revisionist history. As a result, they succeed fully at nothing. (HarperCollins, $21.95)