The Bingo Palace

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Unified mainly by Lipsha’s quest to win Shawnee, THE BINGO PALACE is a rope drawing together many strands, just as, in Erdrich’s central metaphor, the Kashpaw family is a rope of many strands complexly twisted together. Lipsha has been living away from the tribe in Fargo, but is called home mysteriously by his grandmother, Lulu. He feels called to change his life. Is his mission to marry Shawnee, the beautiful and ambitious unwed mother?

Or to prevent his half-uncle Lyman, the reputed father of Shawnee’s child, from converting sacred tribal land into a casino and resort? Or to aid his father’s escape from prison? Or to take his destined place as tribal medicine man after the death of his great grandmother, Fleur Pillager? Although Lipsha moves toward all of these goals, he achieves none of them, except perhaps for aiding his father in his escape.

In the ten chapters he narrates, Lipsha focuses upon persuading Shawnee to marry him. The other chapters—narrated mainly by a communal voice of the reservation—call attention to the context of history and relationships within which Lipsha acts without full awareness.

Though early reviewers have expressed skepticism about the novel’s form, readers should not be put off. THE BINGO PALACE is Erdrich at her best; the book will reward rereading. Chronologically, this novel follows LOVE MEDICINE (1984; expanded edition, 1993), which introduced most of the main characters. Like LOVE MEDICINE, this novel abounds in anecdotes and legends that are at once funny and profound, revealing the rich and magical depth of the tribal life of Erdrich’s Chippewas.

Sources for Further Study

The Antioch Review. LII, Spring, 1994, p. 366.

Chicago Tribune. January 9, 1994, XIV, p. 1.

The Christian Science Monitor. January 11, 1994, p. 13.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. February 6, 1994, p. 1.

Ms. IV, January, 1994, p. 72.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, January 16, 1994, p. 7.

Publishers Weekly. CCXL, November 15, 1993, p. 72.

Time. CXLIII, February 7, 1994, p. 71.

The Times Literary Supplement. June 17, 1994, p. 23.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIV, February 6, 1994, p. 5.