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February 19, 1995|CHARLES SOLOMON

THE BINGO PALACE by Louise Erdrich (HarperPerennial: $13; 274 pp.). Erdrich weaves the dreams and sorrows of contemporary Native American life into her continuing saga of a fractious Chippewa clan. Lipsha Morrissey, a decent but ineffectual young man, finds himself desperately in love with a beautiful, ambitious young mother--who may or may not be engaged to "this reservation's biggest cheese," Lyman Lamartine. In addition to the amoral Lamartine, Lipsha must contend with two redoubtable matriarchs: rigidly virtuous Zelda Kashpaw and Fleur Pillager, who is widely believed to have tricked Death into taking others in her place. In sensual, exquisitely crafted prose, Erdrich balances tragedy against dark humor, as Lipsha learns the bittersweet lesson, "We do know that no one gets wise enough to really understand the heart of another, though it is the task of our life to try. We chew the tough skins, we wonder."

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