Review catch-up – Erdrich & McDaniel

The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich – book group report.

Our ‘A is for… flora/fauna’ book via our new book picking theme was my suggestion and our whole group’s first encounter with Louise Erdrich, who is of half German-American and half Chippewa descent. Most of her many novels, including The Antelope Wife, concern Native American life. She has written children’s books and poetry also and owns a bookshop in Minnesota. The Antelope Wife was first published in 1998, but we later found out that Erdrich published a totally revised and extended version as The Antelope Woman in 2016, after wanting to discover more about her characters. Luckily, we all managed to read the original!

Erdrich blends the stories of three generations of a Native American family, the Shawanos who got tangled up with the Roys when a mother was separated from her child. It also invokes the spirit ancestors and Native American myths of the windigo (a creature from Algonquin legend). The narrator changes from chapter to chapter, and at first it was hard to keep up with which generation we were in, even the dog (who plays an important role at the beginning), gets to think-speak to us now and then.

It’s a convoluted family saga, with twins in each generation, who mostly have handed-down names, like the mischievous twin grandmothers engaged in competitive beading, almost as if they were weaving the threads of life like the Fates in Greek myth. Tragedy befalls the generation of twins that didn’t take the ancestral names. A family tree would have been helpful, but as I got into the novel, it didn’t matter so much – I just went with the flow; those of our group who did that too seemed to enjoy the novel more. Although there is this central tragedy in the novel, the rest is written with a lot of humour including: a wedding in danger of going wrong, a quest to recreate a landmark cake, the family drunks, and those pesky grandmothers. I’d definitely give Erdrich another go, but not all of the group would.

Source: Own copy. Flamingo paperback, 240 pages. BUY at Amazon via my affiliate link.

Mr. and Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel

If you subscribe to AppleTV, you may have seen a new series called Palm Royale following the adventures of a would-be socialite/heiress at Palm Beach, Florida. It stars Kirsten Wiig, Laura Dern, Alison Janney, Ricky Martin and a scene-stealing Carole Burnett. It’s theoretically based on this novel, but apart from the 1969 setting, the would-be socialite and former beauty queen called Maxine (Wiig), now married to Doug who works for an airline, and her nemesis and top of the social tree Evelyn (Janney), I’m four episodes in and that’s the only similarity I’ve seen. The TV series is high gloss, and with that high-powered cast is entertaining enough, but it’s so exaggerated it’s unbelievable, and with it’s multiple interlinking storylines, and scattergun approach it can be hard to follow. By contrast, the novel has an almost totally different plot heading in a single direction.

So let’s turn our attention to the book instead – which is initially set in Palm Springs, California, beloved of Sinatra and his set for desert escapes. It begins with the moment that Maxine becomes “a leper. An outcast” having worked to inveigle herself into the social set led by Evelyn (who has a “Hearst connection”). The next few chapters tell the story leading up to that point.

Doug is an airline exec (in the TV series, he’s a pilot), and heir to a business fortune from his father’s factories. Maxine wants to move up in the world, via Palm Springs, so while Doug works in LA during the week, she’s there building contacts, working the social scene. She’s dealt a double-whammy though, for soon, she not only unwittingly snubs Evelyn, but Doug tells her he’s leaving her for his secretary back in LA. Maxine does her damnedest to engineer a good divorce, but that includes getting out of Dodge – she’s not to return to Palm Springs.

She moves to Scottsdale, Arizona and soon strikes up two unlikely friendships, the first is Robert Hogarth, a bar owner (gay) who takes her under his wing, before realising that the opposite is true. (He’s the model for the Ricky Martin character on TV). The other is Charles “Chuck” Bronkski, the neglected eight-year-old son of Sharla, a wayward waitress, and his dad in ‘Nam. Chuck, is really bright, and has a younger sister Dawn, who is two, and Maxine will increasingly look after them, finding a useful spy and help in Chuck.

When Maxine, as a former Miss San Bernardino, sees a flyer for the Mr. and Mrs. American Pie pageant – searching for the perfect American family, with Robert, Chuck and Dawn, she has the perfect bogus foster family! Why not? It gets increasingly madcap as she coaches them in how to behave and then the pageant looms…

I can’t deny it, once I got into McDaniel’s style, which doesn’t pause for a second, (like the TV series), this was huge fun and very funny! As much as you want to dislike Maxine for her OTT aspirations and single-minded pursuit of following them, due to her relationships with Robert and Chuck (especially Chuck, who is a wonderful character) you can only grow to at least tolerate her, if not love her. This novel was a real palate cleanser.

Source: Review copy – thank you. Inkshares, paperback original, 364 pages.

BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)

5 thoughts on “Review catch-up – Erdrich & McDaniel

  1. Elle says:

    I’ve only read two Erdrich—the first, LaRose, was quite underwhelming, but the second, The Sentence, has been one of this year’s most pleasurable discoveries. The Antelope Wife sounds like it falls somewhere between the two.

  2. Carlton says:

    I’ve read four Erdrich, of which The Sentence was the best, and I also really liked The Round House.
    Sounds like I would enjoy this one, but I have The Night Watchman to read first.
    I really enjoyed reading about the different culture, and if that aspect interests you, I would suggest Indigenous Continent by Pekka Hämäläinen.

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