Published on January 20, 2011 by John
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The Bingo Palace
A novel that is equally notable for its heart-hitting themes as its wondrous prose, Louise Erdrich’s The Bingo Palace is a masterful work of contemporary American literature. Characterized by cascading, gorgeous imagery and sharply drawn characters, Erdrich’s novel is a great read.
The Bingo Palace follows the character Lipsha Morrissey as he returns home to his reservation, takes a job as night watchman at his uncle’s casino, and falls in love with the mother of his uncle’s child. He tries to make sense of his life and figure out where he belongs in the twisted family tree from which he sprouted.
As much as the novel is about luck and love, it is also about family and origins. It is about history, the history Lipsha comes from and struggles to come to terms with as he grows to understand it more fully. While Lipsha waits for answers, he discovers the way his own luck operates, revealing curious insights about himself and his people.
Lipsha Morrissey is the protagonist, if one were to be identified, and he is as realistic as a fictional character comes. He has hopes and dreams, but he struggles to achieve them. He isn’t always sure of himself, and he falters when trying to learn who he really is. He is, however, sure that he is desperately in love with Shawnee Ray, placing himself in a disadvantageous position within a love triangle.
Lyman Lamartine, Lipsha’s uncle and rival for the love of Shawnee Ray, is also well-developed and believable as a character. On the outside, Lyman is handsome, successful, and happy. On the inside he struggles with his own addiction and inability to cope with the past, particularly his brother’s death, in a fully functional way.
Shawnee Ray, the woman torn among these two men and her own ambitions, is a strong, high-aiming woman with an intoxicating personality. A young mother, Shawnee fights to do what is in the best interest of her and her son, sometimes at the expense of her feelings and following her heart.
The themes the novel develops are those of family, loyalty, secrets, and history. The novel deals with luck and the way that it operates, whether it is in opposition to or in accordance with fate. The beauty of the book is not just in the story, but, more than anything else, in the writing, the breathtaking way Erdrich has with words.