Review: The Antelope Wife

The Antelope WifeThe Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**Not technically a review, more of a loving ramble**

As a white person, I’m ashamed of how little Native American literature I’ve read—particularly as a white person from “Indian Territory” aka Oklahoma. Clearly, it’s on me to pick up these authors, but there’s something tragic about the fact that I took an entire semester of Oklahoma history and not once were we assigned to read anything by a Native American author. Then again, Oklahoma history wasn’t even taught by an actual teacher at my school. Go figure.

I should’ve read this book 6 years ago. It was assigned for a class on Modern Women Writers, but that was the semester that I didn’t finish at least two-thirds of the assigned novels. That, folks, is how to earn an English degree. I wish I’d read this book 6 years ago, but at the same time I recognize that 20-year-old me wasn’t ready.

Although it’s ostensibly a book about events in the lives of two inter-married families, The Antelope Wife does so much more than that. In 240 pages, Louise Erdrich gives us mini-narratives, tales passed down from one generation to another. The book’s perspective is constantly shifting, from the older generation to the more recent one, and absolutely nothing is out of the question. Magic lives in every day life, and it’s so ordinary that no one comments on it. Issues covered range from love—falling in, falling out, and falling in love with someone else—childbirth, death of a child, depression, and alcoholism. This book deals with the struggle of shaping one’s personal identity as a descendent of both Native Americans and white people. It deals with the dangerous power of passionate love and its effect on those around you.

While it’s “about” all of these things and more, The Antelope Wife is so much more than the average family saga. If a great book leaves you with something you take away with you, an amazing book, then, is one that teaches you something, changes your life without your realizing it.
I’ve been reading books my whole life. As a kid, I went to the library once a week, devouring books in a single sitting. I’m not the only one either. It seems the highest praise people give a book is “I couldn’t put it down” or “I read it in a day.” Now I’m asking myself, why? I guess most of us want a story that will wrap us up, make us forget the mundanity or even the pain of our own lives. We fly through books because we love them so much, right?

I’m here to tell you that not all books can be devoured that way. Some books need to be savored, with the chapters melting on your tongue like expensive chocolates. The Antelope Wife is one of those books. If you give it the proper time and attention, you realize that every single word Erdrich uses is important; every side story, no matter how minor seeming, is important. What this book taught me is the importance of enjoying the experience of reading a novel. Too often we fly through a story, looking for plot resolution and maybe some character development, but we miss the fact that the act of reading that story in particular is an experience in and of itself.

If you’re reading this, and you’re someone like me who has flown through more books in a lifetime than she could possibly count, then I want you to try something. I’m not going to tell you that you absolutely have to read The Antelope Wife right now. But the next book you pick up, no matter the genre, see if you can slow down and really savor the story. I guarantee you, it’s worth it.

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