Erdrich's descriptions of the setting pretty much embody the whole tone of the book: a lot of bleakness with a few flashes of nice stuff. In the Albertine's description of the Kashpaw family home, for example, we get a sense of a place (and a family) in the throes of decay, drawing our attention to a rusted car that had served as a playhouse for the family's kids for multiple generations, and the fact that "the stones that lined the driveway, always painted white or blue, were flaking back to gray."
Yikes. Check out our discussion of "Setting" for more on that jazz.
So, we've gotta be honest—overall, the book is a pretty depressing ride, with lots of pain, bad family relationships, alcoholism, and financial hardship.
That said, there are a few bright spots. Despite her tussles with her mother, Albertine seems to be headed toward a successful medical career (she starts out as a nurse, but Lipsha later tells us she wants to be a doctor), and Lipsha seems to be in a much more positive and hopeful place at the end of the novel, having come to terms with his parentage and even chatted with his father. So, much to our surprise given the bleakity-bleak-bleak events that preceded it, we actually get a happy ending.