Love MedicineLouise Erdrich
For Further Study
When Louise Erdrich and her husband, Michael Dorris, first sent Love Medicine to publishers, they received nothing but polite rejections. Finally, Dorris decided to promote the book himself and was successful. Holt published the book in 1983, and it became an immediate best seller. Critics applaud Erdrich's wit, tenderness, and powerful style of writing. They particularly like the manner in which Erdrich creates the Native American voice through the form of a traditional Chippewa story cycle. Her characters tell their own stories. In Love Medicine, seven characters from two families present four-teen stories about themselves and their relationships. Readers, especially Native Americans, appreciate her realistic portrayal of Native American life. The book has translations in eighteen languages and has received enthusiastic readerships through the Book-of-the-Month and Quality Paperback Book Clubs. In addition, television producers have discussed the possibilities of madefor-television serials as well as movies.
Love Medicine has won many awards for Erdrich's ability to demonstrate the differences among individuals within the sameness of their culture. While each of the characters reveals his or her personality, the distinct ties between the characters and their culture are obvious. For example, Nector, the iconic Indian whose portrait has hung in the state capitol, leads the same personal life led by men of lesser stature. He carries on an affair, has a failed marriage, and lives out his final days in a state of near oblivion. The theme of generational connections holds strongly throughout the novel.
Erdrich was born on July 6, 1954, in Little Falls, Minnesota. One of seven children, Erdrich and her family later lived in Wahpeton, North Dakota, close to the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation. Her parents, Rita Joanne Gourneau Erdrich and Ralph Louis Erdrich, both taught at the Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school. Erdrich's mother was born on the reservation, and Erdrich's grandfather, Patrick Gourneau, served as tribal chairman. Erdrich thinks highly of her grandfather, who keeps the old traditions alive within the context of modern culture and is respected in both cultures. While Erdrich says that none of her fiction is autobiographical, she does admit to picturing her grandfather's best traits through Nector Kashpaw in Love Medicine.
Erdrich entered Dartmouth College in 1972. That same year, Dartmouth established its Native American Studies department. Anthropologist Michael Dorris, Erdrich's future husband, chaired the department. As a student in his classes, she began to explore her Native American heritage. She and Dorris collaborated on a children's story which was published in an Indian magazine. At the same time, one of her other teachers encouraged her poetry writing. While she had several publications in Dartmouth literary magazines, Erdrich felt she had achieved true success when Ms. published one of her poems. Then, in 1975, the American Academy of Poets awarded her a prize. Feeling validated as a poet, Erdrich worked after graduation for the State Arts Council of North Dakota, teaching poetry in schools, prisons, and rehabilitation centers.
In addition to being a poetry teacher, Erdrich worked various jobs that have provided her with experiences she uses in her writing: as a waitress, lifeguard, construction worker, etc. As a specific example, Erdrich once weighed trucks on the interstate. In Love Medicine, Albertine and Dot weigh trucks for the state highway system. Through working at these jobs, Erdrich gained an understanding of and compassion for people of mixed blood. She felt compelled to write about them. In an interview with Michael Schumacher for Writer's Digest she says, "There were lots of people with mixed blood, lots of people who had their own confusions. I realized that this was part of my life—it wasn't something that I was making up—and that it was something I wanted to write about."
Motivated to focus on her writing, Erdrich began her Master's program at Johns Hopkins University. When she graduated, Dartmouth College hired her as a writer-in-residence. While at Dart-mouth, she and Dorris renewed their acquaintance. Then, she left for Boston to work on a textbook, and Dorris went to New Zealand to do research. They kept in touch by sharing their work with one another. When their story, "The World's Greatest Fisherman" won five thousand dollars in the Nelson Algren fiction competition, the two decided to expand it into the novel, Love Medicine. Since the publication of her debut novel, she has published several other novels, poetry, and her memoir.
The World's Greatest Fishermen (1981)
The novel opens with June Kashpaw walking down the main street of Williston, North Dakota, killing time until she can board the bus home to the reservation. Instead of boarding that bus, however, she meets a man in a bar, and after several drinks they drive out of town and have sex in the front seat of his car. When he falls into a drunken sleep on top of her, she squeezes out and begins to walk home, but an Easter snow storm surprises her and she dies before she reaches the reservation.
The memories of family members fill in June's background. Raised by her bachelor uncle, Eli, she had married her cousin, Gordie, and had a son, King. The marriage had ended unhappily, however, and June ran off. Now King, her son, has used the insurance money from her death to buy a new car. June also had an illegitimate son, Lipsha, who was raised by Marie Kashpaw, but Lipsha does not know that June was his mother.
Saint Marie (1934)
At fourteen Marie goes to the convent to become a nun. In an effort to fight off the devil and tame Marie's proud spirit, Sister Leopolda pours scalding hot water on the girl's back, and pierces her hand with a fork. Marie passes out from the pain of this last wound, and wakes to find the nuns all kneeling before her, awaiting her blessing, as Leopolda has told them that it is a holy wound which magically appeared on the girl's hand.
Wild Geese (1934)
Nector Kashpaw is thinking about Lulu while walking to town to sell some geese. He sees Marie Lazarre running down the hill from the convent with a convent pillowcase. Thinking that she has stolen it, he tries to stop her. He wrestles her to the ground and then cannot stop himself from touching her under her skirt. Only when he pulls back, shocked at what he has done, does he realize that the pillowcase is bandaging a wound on her hand. They sit holding hands as the sun goes down.
When Nector turns to Marie, Lulu begins to think of Moses Pillager, a strange, ghostlike man who lives as a hermit on an island. She goes to his home, and they fall in love. When they are expecting their child she realizes that she cannot stay there forever, but that Moses will never be able to leave.
The Beads (1948)
Marie takes in her niece, June Kashpaw, even though she has too many mouths to feed already. Though Marie loves June, June decides to go live with her Uncle Eli. Nector leaves Marie and she must struggle to support the children herself.
Rushes Bear, Nector's mother, comes to stay with Marie. When Marie is ready to give birth again, Nector returns. After the child is born, Nector tries to pay his mother, but she refuses the money saying that she no longer has a son, only a daughter, Marie.
Lulu's Boys (1957)
Lulu is visited by her late husband's brother, Beverly Lamartine. Beverly believes that the boy born nine months after his brother's funeral is in fact Beverly's son, conceived on the day of Henry's wake. He has come with the hope of retrieving that son, but Lulu reminds him of his old passion for her. Finally he slips into Lulu's bed, and becomes her next husband.
The Plunge of the Brave (1957)
Nector tells how everything has always come easily to him. He receives many job offers, and he can have any woman he wants. The one he wants is Lulu, and they seem to be moving easily towards each other, until he meets Marie. He marries Marie and soon feels overwhelmed by their many children and the demands of his job. One hot summer day some butter is delivered to the town, and Nector asks Lulu to help deliver the butter. When they are alone Nector asks for her forgiveness, and they make love. After that he sneaks into her bedroom regularly. This continues until he begins to fear that she will marry her brother-in-law. He writes two notes, one to Marie, telling her that he is in love with Lulu, and the other to Lulu, telling her that he is leaving Marie. He leaves the note for Marie under the sugar jar on their table, and he takes the other note to Lulu's house. She is not home, so he waits in her backyard, but his cigarette starts a fire and burns the house down.
Flesh and Blood (1957)
Zelda finds the note her father has left on the table. Frightened, she brings it to Marie. Hours later Marie hears Zelda and Nector returning, and she wonders how to face him. She decides to put the note back on the table, but she puts it under the salt shaker, not the sugar jar, so that Nector will always wonder whether she has read it or not.
A Bridge (1973)
Albertine runs away from home and takes the bus to Fargo. She meets Henry Lamartine Jr., recently returned from a POW camp in Vietnam, and they spend the night together in a motel.
The Red Convertible (1974)
When Henry returns from Vietnam he is not interested in anything. Lyman breaks the car they had bought together in an attempt to get Henry interested in fixing it. Henry does fix it and takes a trip with Lyman, but then Henry jumps in the river and drowns. Lyman drives the car into the water and lets it sink.
Gerry Nanapush is constantly breaking out of prison and being caught again. Dot is pregnant with a child they managed to conceive in a prison visiting room. When Dot is very close to delivering the baby, Gerry breaks out so he can be with her. Weeks later Gerry is arrested again, this time for shooting and killing a state trooper.
Crown of Thorns (1981)
Gordie, June's ex-husband, begins to drink heavily after her death. Driving drunk one night, he hits a deer and puts the body in his back seat. He continues to drive, but then the deer, merely stunned, wakes up. Gordie grabs a crow bar and kills it, but then he becomes convinced that it is June he has just killed. He drives to a convent and confesses to a nun that he has killed his wife. She tries to explain to him that it is a deer he has killed, but he runs crying into the woods.
Love Medicine (1982)
Marie asks Lipsha to get her love medicine so that Nector will return the love she has always felt for him. Lipsha decides to shoot two geese, birds that mate for life, and have his grandparents eat the hearts. But when he is not able to shoot the geese, he buys two turkey hearts, reasoning that the faith is what is important. Nector, however, chokes on the heart and dies.
Gordie shows up at his mother's house and begs for some alcohol. She has none, but when she is not looking he drinks Lysol and dies.
The Good Tears (1983)
Lulu has surgery on her eyes, which are failing her, and she needs someone to put drops in them for her. Marie Kashpaw comes to do it, and, after a life-long animosity, the two women become al-lies.
The Tomahawk Factory (1983)
Lyman builds a factory that will make souvenirs. The products do not sell quickly, and the workers become disgruntled at the continual layoffs. Finally there is a revolt and the factory is destroyed.
Lyman's Luck (1983)
Lyman decides to start running Bingo games. He hopes to eventually open casinos.
Crossing the Water (1984)
Lulu tells Lipsha that he is the son of June and Gerry. Lipsha goes to King's house looking for Gerry. Gerry appears and reveals that when he and King were in prison together, King told officials of Gerry's plans to escape. The three men play poker, with the car bought with June's insurance money as the stakes. Lipsha wins and offers to drive Gerry anywhere he wants to go. Just then the police show up, and Gerry disappears. Lipsha begins driving the car home, but he hears a knocking in the trunk. He pulls over and discovers Gerry in the trunk. He drives Gerry to Canada and then heads home.
See Eli Kashpaw
See Gordie Kashpaw
See Henry Lamartine, Jr.
See Henry Lamartine
At the beginning of the story in 1981, Albertine Johnson—daughter of Zelda and granddaughter of Marie—is away from the reservation studying to be a nurse. She returns home upon hearing of her Aunt June's death. Once home, she tries to get Grandpa Kashpaw to recall his years as an Indian revolutionary.
Albertine has always been independent. In 1973, the fifteen-year-old runs away from home to Fargo, where she meets and sleeps with Henry Lamartine, Jr. In 1980, trying to decide what to do with her life, Albertine meets Gerry Nanapush and his girlfriend, Dot Adare. Albertine works on the construction sight with Dot until Dot delivers Gerry's baby.
Zelda, sister to Aurelia and daughter of Marie, is Albertine's mother. Zelda was raised as June's sister. Zelda thinks Albertine should be married. She also criticizes June's son, King, for marrying a white girl when Zelda, herself, had been married to a Swede.
Aurelia, Albertine's aunt, is Marie's other daughter and Zelda's sister. She lives in the old homeplace on the reservation.
Eli Kashpaw, one of the youngest of Rushes Bear's twelve children, was raised in Indian ways while his brother, Nector, attended the white man's boarding school. Eli is Albertine's great uncle. Eli raises June after she leaves Marie's house. He remains a bachelor. While his brother Nector's mind has deteriorated, Eli's remains clear and sharp.
First-born son of Marie and Nector, Gordie is the brother of Zelda and Aurelia, and was raised as June's brother. He marries June, however, angering Marie. He and June have one son, King. Gordie truly loves June and is never able to deal with her death. He begins drinking one month after her death. In 1982, he dies from heartbreak and alcoholism in his mother's home.
See Marie Kashpaw
See Nector Kashpaw
The story begins in 1981 with the final episode of June Morrissey Kashpaw's life. A long-legged, hardened Chippewa woman, June appears young to the casual observer. A close look, however, reveals her broken nails, ragged hair, and clothes held together by safety pins. June is the daughter of Lucille Lazarre Morrissey, the dead sister of Marie Lazarre Kashpaw (Grandma Kashpaw). June resides with Marie until she decides to go live with Eli. June marries Marie's son, Gordie, much to Marie's displeasure.
On one of her many leaves from Gordie, June meets a mud engineer, Andy, in a bar in Williston, North Dakota. She has drinks with him, knowing that he will want to sleep with her afterwards. Tired of the routine she knows so well, June plays along until Andy passes out in his truck. June, drunk, decides to walk back to the reservation but never makes it. She dies in a snow-covered field.
King is the son of June and Gordie. King is married to Lynette, a white girl, and they have a son named King, Jr. (Howard). King wants to believe he is the only true son of June and torments Lipsha for most of his life. At the end of the story, Lipsha and Gerry both visit King and his family—reminding King of his acts against them and putting him in his place.
Marie grew up as Marie Lazarre, the daughter of drunken horse thieves, a Catholic girl who believed that Satan talked to her. One of the sisters who taught at Marie's school convinced Marie that Satan lived in her, and that the only way to be rid of him was to join the convent. Marie lived in the convent from 1931 until 1934, enduring physical and mental abuse from the sister, Leopolda, who had cajoled her into coming to the convent. When Leopolda stabs Marie with a fork and knocks her out with a poker, Marie finally finds a way to escape her abuse. She allows the other sisters to believe Leopolda's story that the injury in Marie's palm is actually the mark of Christ—the evidence of a miracle that has occurred in the face of Satan's work. With this lie, Marie holds a power over Leopolda that enables Marie to leave the convent.
- Love Medicine is read by Erdrich and her husband/collaborator, Michael Dorris on this audiotaped, 180-minute abridged version of the book; available from Audiobooks.com.
- An audiocassette version of Love Medicine, along with The Beet Queen is available from Amazon.com. Entitled The Beet Queen: Love Medicine (Excerpt E), the cost of this audiotape is $13.95.
Marie meets Nector Kashpaw on the day she leaves the convent. Nector is a handsome Indian who is returning from shooting geese that he sells to the convent sisters. He throws Marie to the ground without thinidng, and with one sexual act, seals his fate with Marie forever. While Nector really loves Lulu Nanapush, he marries Marie in 1934 and fathers her children—Gordie, Zelda, Aurelia—and raises the children they take in—Lipsha Morrissey and June Kashpaw.
Nector Kashpaw—son of Rushes Bear (Margaret Kashpaw), brother of Eli, and husband of Marie—attended boarding school as a young man, where he learned to read and write as well as the white man's ways. He represented his tribe well in his younger days, testifying in Washington for Indians' rights, getting a school and factory built, and saving his tribe's land. When the story opens in 1981, however, Nector Kashpaw has little memory of anything that has happened in the past.
In his lucid moments, Nector remembers his first meeting with Marie and wonders at the fact that he was unable to let her go. At that time in his life, he loved Lulu Nanapush, whom his own mother had raised. Yet he married Marie Lazarre, for which Lulu never forgave him. Nector, himself, could never forget Lulu. In 1952, realizing that he had to follow his heart, Nector begins a five-year affair with Lulu. The affair ends when Beverly Lamartine, Lulu's late husband's brother, arrives and becomes her lover. Nector gets Lulu kicked off her land, and as a result, Lulu ends the affair. He tries to forget her but ends up writing a letter to Marie telling her that he is leaving her. When he returns to Lulu's house and finds her gone, he burns her house down.
Henry Senior's brother, Beverly appears at Henry's funeral and then again, seven years after Henry dies. His secret motive for returning is to claim Henry Junior as his own so that he can "use" Henry Junior in his book-selling tactics. He succeeds in seducing Lulu and is the cause of the end of Lulu's affair with Nector Kashpaw.
The man Lulu married out of "fondness," Henry dies in 1950 when a train crashes into his car.
Henry Lamartine, Jr.
Henry Junior, son of Lulu (and probably Henry Senior), is not the same person when he returns from Vietnam. Having been a happy-go-lucky kind of guy, the Henry who returns from three years overseas is very different. He suffers from depression, but there is no help available for him on the reservation. He seems happier after he begins working on the red car that he loves. One night, however, he and Lyman get drunk and Henry jumps into the river. When he doesn't reappear, Lyman tries to save him. Realizing that Henry has drowned, Lyman pushes the car into the river— leaving it there for his brother who loved it.
Lulu Lamartine loved Nector Kashpaw from the time that she was a young girl. When Nector married Marie instead, Lulu tried to put him out of her mind. She went to live with Moses Pillager, the crazy island man whose family had sent him to live in the land of the spirits. She bore him a son, Gerry, and returned to town to live. When Pillager did not follow her, she married a Morrissey out of spite. Later, she married Henry Lamartine because she was fond of him. Lulu had eight sons, none of whom were Henry's and one daughter, Bonita, whose father was Mexican. The last of the eight boys was Nector's son, Lyman Kashpaw.
After Nector signed Lulu's land away, Lulu married Beverly Lamartine, Henry's brother, but did not live with him. She spent a few months living in a shack on her burned-out property, until the tribe built a government house for her on a piece of land bought from a white farmer. After she had turned sixty-five and with eyesight failing, Lulu moves to the Senior Citizen's Center where she and Nector have their last encounter with one another.
It is 1983. Lyman Lamartine, son of Lulu and brother to Henry Junior, has difficulty dealing with his brother's death. An astute businessman, Lyman begins to lose money, unable to bring himself out of his depression. A notice from the IRS prompts him to action, though. He goes to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and opens a factory. When the factory is destroyed as the result of rioting among its employees, he begins planning a Chippewa casino.
See Marie Kashpaw
See Marie Kashpaw
See June Kashpaw
Lipsha was raised by Grandma Kashpaw, but he was June's son by Gerry Nanapush during one of June's separations from Gordie. Lipsha, however, goes through most of his life not knowing that June is his mother. Lipsha has special talents—an Indian medicine with which he was born. He decides to practice his medicine on his grandparents by concocting a love charm for them. When he "cheats" on the concoction, he believes he is the cause of his grandfather's death. His grandmother reassures him and gives him the beads that had belonged to his mother. He does not really understand the significance of the beads until Lulu Lamartine tells the nineteen-year-old that he is June's son. Lipsha decides to find and meet his father.
See Lulu Lamartine
Gerry Nanapush—the result of Lulu Nanapush's time with Moses Pillager—is a renegade, nearly as wild as his father is. Known for his numerous breaks from prison and his dedication to the American Indian Movement, Gerry keeps on the run from the authorities. He feels his true place in life is with his family, in the bosom of his tribe. He finds it difficult to live the white man's life. On his last break from prison, he seeks out King to punish him for turning him in to the authorities.
See Lulu Lamartine
Topics for Further Study
- Part of Erdrich's unique style is her narration by different speakers. She asserts that she writes in the traditional storytelling form of the Chippewa. Research storytelling techniques to learn more about this Chippewa tradition. Explain in your own words what Erdrich means by this. Think about other authors who use this technique in similar ways. List at least one, and give examples that will show the comparison between the authors' styles.
- There are distinct similarities between Erdrich's style in Love Medicine and Gloria Naylor's style in The Women of Brewster Place. List and explain the similarities using specific examples from both novels.
- While Erdrich's writing in Love Medicine is said to be non-autobiographical, there are many aspects of the story that Erdrich has taken from her own experiences. Locate and read a biographical sketch of Erdrich and compare it to Love Medicine.
- Trace the history of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Describe its original intent and purpose. Discuss its place in contemporary America.
- Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is said to be prevalent among Native Americans. Research this disease. Describe the symptoms and causes as well as the treatments and current studies that are being done. Locate and discuss references to the relationship between the disease and Native American culture.
The characters in Love Medicine exhibit distinct personality traits and live their lives accordingly. Yet, very strong ties exist among all the characters—the ties to their common families and heritage. For example, while Albertine has chosen to leave the reservation to study nursing, she is drawn back home upon hearing about her Aunt June's death. Back on the reservation, Albertine wants to connect with her grandfather, hoping to understand more of her heritage. She asks him questions about his days as an advocate for Indian rights, hoping that something she says will rekindle his memory. The other characters also tell their stories through their relationships to June. Thus, the familial bonds provide a common thread throughout Love Medicine, offering a universal theme to which everyone can relate.
Individual vs. Society
In addition to their ties to family, the characters in Love Medicine hold their cultural heritage close to their hearts. They try to live in contemporary society while keeping their Chippewa traditions alive. Lipsha Morrissey presents a good example. The family recognizes that Lipsha has the "touch," that he possesses the ability to heal with his hands as many of his ancestors could. He tries to use his ability to make his grandfather love his grandmother again. Feeling at loose ends when he cheats on his potion for love medicine and his grandfather dies, and having the newfound knowledge that Gerry Nanapush is his father, Lipsha allows the white man's world to lure him into joining the Army.
Gerry Nanapush's selfidentity has always been at odds with the society in which he lives. Like his son, Lipsha, Gerry has a strong sense of his heritage and feels wronged by the white man, who will not give him a fair chance. When he fights a white man by "reservation rules" (Erdrich) in a bar one night, he loses and gets a prison sentence. He escapes from prison because he believes that his rightful place is with his family. Because white man's law dictates that he be retumed to prison, Gerry must hide from everyone—unable to live the honest and peaceful life that is his heritage.
Race and Racism
Gerry Nanapush's barroom fight resulted from his trying to defend his heritage. A "cowboy" had asked him whether a Chippewa was also a "nigger." Gerry fought him by "reservation rules"; he kicked the man in the groin. That ended the fight, and Gerry thought the issue was settled. Yet he had to go to court, where the white witnesses and the white doctor stacked the evidence against him. His Indian friends provided him with no help as witnesses; they did not believe in the United States judicial system. Gerry received a sentence that was stiff for a first offense but "not bad for an Indian."
Lipsha Morrissey grew up in Grandma Kashpaw's home. He never really knew who his parents were until he was nineteen years old, when Lulu Lamartine told him. All of those years, though, the family treated him well. He thought that it was because he had his special "touch." Yet, he discovers that he is June's son by Gerry Nanapush during one of June's separations from Gordie. When Lulu tells him the news, she says that she thinks he should know because she feels that he has always been troubled, not knowing where he really belonged. He decides shortly after this that he wants to meet his father. When Lipsha and Gerry meet, and Lipsha helps him escape, he finds his true identity in Gerry's words: "You're a Nanapush man. We all have this odd thing with our hearts."
God and Religion
Erdrich's Catholic upbringing is reflected in Marie's stories. As a young girl, Marie (Saint Marie) aspires to rise to the stature of the nuns who live in the convent on the hill. She feels that she is as good as they are. "They were not any lighter than me. I was going up there to pray as good as they could. Because I don't have that much Indian blood." Sister Leopolda, Marie's teacher, constantly wamed the children that to disobey her was to let Satan take over their lives. When Marie's attention once strayed from her schoolwork, Leopolda convinced Marie that Satan had chosen her. As a result, Marie sought salvation through Leopolda. To rid herself of Satan, she would conquer Leopolda; she would get to heaven before Leopolda. Marie joined the convent. For three years, she endured the emotional and physical abuse Leopolda inflicted on her, believing that the harder she prayed and praised God, the sooner she would be free of Leopolda and Satan's grasp. Then, Leopolda nearly killed her with a poker. Regaining consciousness, she realized that Leopolda was telling the other sisters that Marie had undergone a spiritual transformation and received the mark of Christ in her hand. When Marie understood that she had been living a faithless lie and that Leopolda was a sick woman, Marie no longer believed that she needed the faith that the nuns offered.
Point of View
The point of view varies with the speakers. Sometimes they speak in the first person; at other times, they speak in third person. While there are actually fourteen stories in Love Medicine, seven members of five families—the Kashpaws, Lazarres, Lamartines, Nanapushes, and Morrisseys—tell their views of many of the same incidents. For example, both Nector and Marie tell about their encounter on the hill below the convent. Many critics view this technique as a strength, because the reader gets to hear both sides of a story. Other critics think that the use of so many voices makes the novel too confusing; readers must reread to find relationships among the characters and the stories they tell.
Above all else, critics discuss the manner in which Erdrich presents her story through the separate voices of seven characters. Some say that Erdrich's use of this technique provides a rich portrait of not only the events in the lives of the characters, but also a realistic illustration of Native Americans trying to cope in modern culture. For example, Harriett Gilbert says in New Statesman, "Largely using her characters' own voices, she washes their stories backward and forward in rollers of powerful, concentrated prose through half a century (1930s to now) of loving, hating, adapting, surviving and tragically failing to survive." Others criticize her style. Gene Lyons, in Newsweek says that Love Medicine is not a novel but a book of short stories. "No central action unifies the narrative, and the voices all sound pretty much the same—making it difficult to recall sometimes who's talking and what they're talking about."
Most of Love Medicine takes place on the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation in North Dakota, or in the area close to it. The story spans a period of 50 years, from 1934 to 1984. The setting lends credence to the story; white readers get a glimpse of life in a culture that is foreign to most of them. The details Erdrich provides emphasize the lives of many contemporary Indians on reservations. According to Robert Towers in The New York Review of Books, "… impoverished, feckless lives far gone in alcoholism and promiscuity … an irrefutable indictment against an official policy that tried to make farmers out of the hunting and fishing Chippewas, moving them from the Great Lakes to the hilly tracts west of the wheatgrowing plains of North Dakota."
Literary experts say that writers who deviate from the conventional form are taking "poetic license." Many think that Erdrich does this with Love Medicine. Not only does she use separate characters to tell their versions of the events in the book in a nonlinear fashion, but also she adds a lyric quality to her writing that is more typically seen in poetry. Because she is a poet, Erdrich has a practiced mastery of words; she is able to write concisely without losing meaning. This is especially evident in the way her characters talk. According to D. J. R. Bruckner in a review in The New York Times, "… many of their tales have the structure and lyric voice of ballads."
Native American readers appreciate Erdrich's artistry with dialogue. They have written to her saying that she was the first writer who knew how Indians really talked. The language the characters speak has evolved from several other languages blended together to result in a unique voice that is now an established part of the culture. The verbs used come from Chippewa, while most nouns are French. Also heard are traces of other Native American and European languages.
The Chippewa (Ojibwa) Tribe
Seventeenth-century French explorers found the Chippewa Indians, or Ojibwa, in Canada. They lived there in small villages around the Upper Great Lakes near Sault Sainte Marie. At the time, they lacked tribal organization, and the village people governed themselves. They worked as fur traders, used birchbark canoes, and were skilled wood-craftsmen. As they prospered, however, their population grew, and they acquired more territory. In addition, they began focusing more on developing tribal customs and rituals. They established one organization in particular: the Midewiwin, or Grand Medicine Society. In Love Medicine, Lipsha Morrissey, known for his inherited "touch," practices the ways of the old medicine. Love Medicine is named for the love-potion ritual Lipsha tries to recreate for his grandparents.
As the tribe grew, they drove out other tribes. For example, they expanded to take over the entire Ontario peninsula by the late 1700s, forcing the Iroquois to leave. This expansion reached into western Wisconsin and northeastern Minnesota. In the United States, the Ojibwa became known as the Chippewa. By the early 19th century, Chippewa lived in Ontario, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan in Canada—where they were still called Ojibwa—and in North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio in the United States. They lived away from the white man's settlements and continued to practice their tribal customs. The Kashpaws and Lamartines are fictional descendants of the Chippewa who settled in North Dakota. As of 1990, there are more than 100,000 Chippewa living in the United States.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the large areas of land in the western United States that were originally settled by Indians were known as Indian Territory. As white settlers moved westward, however, the United States government passed laws that removed the Indians from Indian Territory. Two such laws were the Indian Removal Act (1930) and the Indian Intercourse Act (1834). These laws made Indian Territory the areas including Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. The government forced Indians to move to these new lands. As a result, many Indians had to learn new ways to support themselves. The Chippewa, for example, existed as hunters and fishermen when they lived on their original homelands. After being forced to the Great Plains regions, they had to become farmers if they were to survive.
The lands to which Indians were forced to move were known as Indian reservations, designated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Between 1830 and 1840, more than 70,000 members of the "Five Civilized Tribes" had to move to reservations. In Love Medicine, the Kashpaws and Lamartines lived on one such reservation, Turtle Mountain. Many Indians fought this forced resettlement, in battles known as the Indian Wars.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs
Established in 1824 as part of the War Department, the Bureau of Indian Affairs still exists as the governmental agency through which Indian affairs are handled. Earlier names for the agency include the Office of Indian Affairs, the Indian Department, and the Indian Service. The agency now resides in the Department of the Interior rather than the War Department, and is directed by the Interior Department's Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs. The twelve offices of the agency oversee reservation and Indian-community programs and, on some reservations, manage education, social services, law enforcement, mineral and water rights, and land leasing. Erdrich's parents both worked as teachers for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The Dawes Act or General Allotment Act
The Dawes Act enabled individual Indians to claim parts of tribal lands for themselves. The Act meant to encourage the Indians to become farmers but resulted in loss of tribal lands to white settlers. To halt this tribal loss of land, the government enacted the 1934 Wheeler-Howard Indian Reorganization Act. Not only did the Indians reclaim ownership of the reservation lands, they also became self-governing in a partnership with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In addition, the partnership provided assistance in developing the land, managing resources, and establishing other programs.
The 1950s saw the termination of special federal programs and trust relationships with Indians, legislation enacted to force Indians to more quickly become a part of white society. This resulted in economic disaster for many tribes. There was so much opposition to the policy, the government withdrew it by the mid-1960s. Since the Bureau of Indian Affairs was established, many Native Americans have protested the lack of Native American input into the agency. They have felt that no one speaks for their rights. In the 1970s, members of the American Indian Movement, an Indian-rights group, demanded that the agency pay more attention to Native American needs and interests.
Compare & Contrast
- 1830s: Through the Indian Removal Act (1830) and the Indian Intercourse Act (1834), Indian tribes were forced to move onto reservations into territory now known as Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.
- 1850s: Indians were further confined to present day Oklahoma through the Kansas-Nebraska Act.
- 1860s: The Indians living in Oklahoma were forced to give up the western half of their territory.
- Late 1800s and early 1900s: The Dawes Act, or General Allotment Act, allowed tribal lands to be parceled out to individual Indians, resulting in widespread sale of the land to white settlers.
- 1930s: Tribal ownership of reservation lands was restored through the Wheeler-Howard Indian Reorganization Act, overturning the 1887 General Allotment (Dawes) Act. Indians also received limited self-governing privileges and help with development and management of land and resources.
- 1950s: Policies ended special federal programs and trust agreements with Indians.
- 1960s: The termination policy of the 1950s was abandoned.
- 1970s: Native American groups become more aggressive in reestablishing their rights. The Narragansett, Dakota, Oneida, and other Indians' claims were upheld in the Supreme Court, gaining them fishing, water, and mining rights, among others.
- 1990s: Native Americans continue to regain their rights. Legislation passed in 1990 protects Indian gravesites and allows return of remains. In 1991, Chippewa Indians gained the right to hunt, fish, and gather plants from reservations in Wisconsin.
Modern-Day Social Ills
Forced assimilation into white society has, in part, been responsible for the many problems Indians face today. Those who live on reservations lack education, have few jobs, suffer early deaths, and have a higher tendency to commit suicide. Those who leave the reservations to live in cities, assisted by a relocation program sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, are often unable to adjust. Without skills that would enable them to be successful away from the reservations, they either return to the reservations or face failure in the cities. Unhappy and at loose ends, many Indians resort to crime and alcoholism.
While many problems still exist for Indians living in modern-day society, more and more Native Americans are overcoming the odds. The Bureau of Indian Affairs works harder today within the government to protect Native American interests. The Office of Tribal Justice, created in 1995 within the U.S. Department of Justice, now assists with questions of state-tribal jurisdiction. Reservations themselves support education through tribal colleges and employment endeavors such as radio stations and gambling casinos.
In view of the overwhelmingly positive reviews that Love Medicine continually receives, it is difficult to believe that publishers at first rejected the book. Only after Dorris promoted Love Medicine himself did Holt publish it in 1983. It immediately became a huge success. Reviewers believed that Erdrich's writing was comparable to Faulkner's and O'Connor's. They predicted a successful career for her. For example, Marco Portales said in the New York Times Book Review, "With this impressive debut Louis Erdrich enters the company of America's best novelists, and I'm certain readers will want to see more from this imaginative and accomplished young writer." Jascha Kessler said in a radio broadcast, "I am glad to report that in 1984 a really firstrate novel by a young woman named Louise Erdrich appeared, and I think it is a book that everyone on the lookout for good, imaginative, rewarding writing will enjoy and admire."
The fact that reviewers think that the book can appeal to everyone represents one of its best qualities: the universal nature of its themes. Love Medicine tells stories of enduring truths such as love and survival. Like all Americans, the Native Americans in the story struggle with problems on a daily basis. These families must cope with alcoholism, economic deprivation, and marital problems. Like all people, they seek solutions to these dilemmas while attempting to live normal lives. Cynthia Kooi says in Booklist, "Erdrich creates characters who … reveal the differences between individuals by the similarities of their society.…" Because the families in Love Medicine act so much like families everywhere, readers relate to them and their situations.
Reviewers also appreciate the skill with which Erdrich realistically portrays the lives of two Chippewa families who are attempting to foster their heritage while living in contemporary society. Jeanne Kinney notes in Best Sellers, "By showing their world impinging on the white world that surrounds them and by showing the white world impinging on them, the author leads us into another culture, her own." Through a period of 50 years, readers become acquainted with seven members of the Kashpaw and Lamartine extended families. All characters hold Chippewa tradition close to their hearts in some way, while having to constantly fight poverty and racism. Even though the Native American culture and beliefs very subtly underlie the stories common to all people, Erdrich manages to provide a vivid picture of Native American society. Kooi says, "The book poignantly reflects the plight of contemporary Indians and at the same time depicts people the reader wants to be with a little longer."
Erdrich presents her realistic characters living universal lives through prose that critics praise for its lyric quality. Even while the characters suffer, the joy and beauty that they experience emerges with a poetic sense. To accomplish this, Erdrich uses not only the characters' multiple voices but also language that, according to Bruckner in The New York Times, "convinces you you have heard them speaking all your life.…" The characters' stories resemble ballads. The characters, themselves, live through the vivid events, details, and attitudes offered by the individual speakers. Erdrich manages to use the combination of the characters' stories and their personal narration to create a community voice that, according to Kessler, ". conveys the magic, the ancient mysteries and lore, the inner heart of the religious and of the traditional ways of thought and feeling of groups who have never been part of the European cultural experience."
While most critics appreciate Erdrich's multivoice style and the richness of her characters' language, some view these aspects of Erdrich's writing to be distracting. Gene Lyons says in Newsweek, "The first thing readers ought to be told about Louise Erdrich's novel Love Medicine … is that no matter what the dust jacket says, it's not a novel. It's a book of short stories … so selfconsciously literary that they are a whole lot easier to admire than to read.… No central action unifies the narrative, and the voices all sound pretty much the same—making it difficult to recall sometimes who's talking and what they're talking about." Robert Towers also criticizes Erdrich's style. He says in The New York Review of Books, "Love Medicine … is very much a poet's novel. By that I mean that the book achieves its effect through moments of almost searing intensity rather than through the rise, climax, and closing of a sustained action, and that its stylistic virtuosity has become almost an end in itself." He, too, thinks the relationships among characters confuse the reader. Yet he credits Erdrich's ability to write dramatic, graphic scenes.
Most literary experts agree that Erdrich writes powerfully, chronicling events in the lives of a society about which most people know nothing. She is able to remain loyal to her heritage while maintaining her art; her writing appeals to everyone. Marco Portales says it best in The New York Times Book Review, "Ethnic writing—works that focus on the lives and particular concerns of America's minorities—labors under a peculiar burden: only certain types of people are supposed to be interested. Louise Erdrich's first novel, Love Medicine,… dispels these spurious notions."
In summary, Love Medicine continues to receive high marks, even though a few critics disagree with all the accolades. The book has won numerous awards including: the Sue Kaufman Prize for Best First Fiction (1983); the National Book Critics Circle award for year's best novelist (1984); the Virginia Scully Award for Best Book Dealing with Western Indians (1984); the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation (1985); and the Great Lakes Colleges Association prize for Best First Work of Fiction (1984).
Donna Woodford is a doctoral candidate at Washington University and has written for a wide variety of academic journals and educational publishers. In the following essay she discusses the story as a form of love medicine.
Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine is a novel made up of several stories about the people that reside on a Chippewa reservation in North Dakota. The stories cover three generations, fifty years, and several families, and there are eight distinct narrators. Because the stories seem so loosely related, some critics have questioned whether the novel is truly a novel. Alan Velie suggests that it is, rather, a "collection of short stories, all of which deal with the same set of characters." Furthermore, Catherine Rainwater asserts that the novel is full of conflicting codes which lead the reader to expect one type of novel, and then frustrate that expectation by producing a very different sort of narrative. She claims, in fact, that "Erdrich's novels conspicuously lack plot in this traditional sense of the term. One need only ask oneself for a plot summary of Love Medicine to substantiate this claim. The novel seems rife with narrators (eight, to be exact, bereft of a focal narrative point of view, and replete with characters whose lives are equally emphasized."
But what unites these seemingly disconnected stories is the common theme of characters in search of love and in need of stories. Throughout the many stories that make up the novel, characters search for a "love medicine," a trick or a potion that will bring them the love they so desperately need. In the end, however, it is the stories themselves that prove to be the love medicine. As Margaret J. Downes notes, "Love and stories are both imaginative creations essentially aware of the presence of The Other, who responds as if this offered figment were real—who observes, judges, and participates, who willingly suspends disbelief and meets halfway." In Love Medicine it is the imaginative creation of stories which allow for the imaginative creation of love.
The first overt mention of a "love medicine" is from Lulu Nanapush. As a child she comes to live with her uncle Nanapush and his wife, Rushes Bear, a woman so renowned for her temper that she is said to have scared off a bear by rushing at it head on, with no weapon. Even the wild animal was afraid to face her, but old Nanapush seems to possess a strange power over her. Noting this, Lulu asks him, "What's your love medicine?.… She hates you but you drive her crazy." Nanapush replies that his secret is, "No clocks. These young boys who went to the Bureau school, they run their love life on white time. Now me, I go on Indian time. Stop in the middle for a bowl of soup. Go right back to it when I've got my strength. I got nothing else to do, after all." But Lulu has already received the first clues that the real love medicine is not just Indian time, but Indian language and stories. As a young child bereft of her mother, Lulu has only the memory of her mother's voice to console her. She dislikes the "flat voices, rough English" which she hears spoken at the govemment school, and she longs for the old language and her mother's voice:
Sometimes, I heard her, N'dawnis, n'dawnis. My daughter, she consoled me. Her voice came from all directions, mysteriously keeping me from inner harm. Her voice was the struck match. Her voice was the steady flame. But it was my old uncle Nanapush who wrote the letters that brought be home.
What Do I Read Next?
- The Beet Queen, published by Holt in 1986, continues the story of the Chippewa, but Erdrich focuses on people connected to the Lamartines and Kashpaws through the community beyond the reservation. This story is about the family of Dot, the woman with whom Gerry Nanapush is involved in Love Medicine.
- While Tracks was published after The Beet Queen (by Harper in 1988), the story centers around the events that occurred and the people who lived before those in Love Medicine. In Tracks, the evil medicine woman, Fleur Pillager, works her magic. She is the ancestor of several of the people in Love Medicine, including Moses Pillager.
- Erdrich interrupted her work on Tales of Burning Love to write The Bingo Palace, published by HarperCollins in 1994. The Bingo Palace provides readers not only with the continuation of the story of Lyman Lamartine and his bingo palace, but also with the tale of the reconciliation between Lipsha and Lyman and a renewal of Chippewa ways.
- HarperCollins published Tales of Burning Love, Erdrich's sixth novel, in 1996. Going back to the story of June Kashpaw, this book relates the events in the life of Jack Mauser, the man whom June has sex with on the night of her death. After June's death, Mauser has four wives. His life is both comedic and tragic; Jack dies in a house fire.
- Erdrich's first work of nonfiction, The Blue Jay's Dance, was published by HarperCollins in 1995. In this book, Erdrich chronicles her child's birth and first year of life. It examines the balancing act that working parents experience on a daily basis.
- Grandmother's Pigeon, published by Hyperion in 1996, is Erdrich's first children's book. It is about an adventurous grandmother who travels to Greenland on the back of a porpoise, and her children who get messages to her by way of carrier pigeons.
- Gloria Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place offers a style of writing comparable to Erdrich's. Naylor tells her story through the distinct voices of seven women struggling to survive ghetto life. The Women of Brewster Place was published by Viking in 1982.
- Critics have compared Erdrich's nonchronological storytelling through characters voices to William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Published in 1930 by Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, As I Lay Dying is a dying woman's story told in a stream-of-consciousness fashion.
The memory of her mother's spoken words provides Lulu with the love medicine which keeps her from inner harm, which allows her to continue loving her mother, even though she is gone, and to love herself, though she is motherless and without anyone to teach her love. Likewise it is her Uncle's command of the written language that brings her love a second time by bringing her to a loving home. The words of her mother and uncle are what allow Lulu to change from the child who "stumbled in [the] shoes of desire," longing for her mother and someone to guide her, into a woman who can say, "I was in love with the whole world and all that lived in its rainy arms." Their words give her the ability to love the world and herself. When she goes to live with Moses Pillager, she will again discover the power of stories. His life has already been dramatically affected by the story with which his mother fooled the spirits and kept him from sickness. But while this story kept him alive, it also made him into a ghost. When Lulu goes to the Island, however, she is able to reverse the spell of this old story by retelling it. She restores his voice to him, allowing him to finally speak his thought aloud to another person, and she undoes his mother's spell by finally speaking the name no one had been allowed to say: "He told me his real name. I whispered it, once. Not the name that fooled the dead, but the word that harbored his life.… I hold his name close as my own blood and I will never let it out. I only spoke it that once so that he would know he was alive." The same word which had to be hidden to keep him from death is now the name that harbors his life, and by knowing his story and speaking his name, Lulu can restore him to life. Her speech is the love medicine she brings to the island with her. The most obvious story about love medicine, of course, is the chapter entitled "Love Medicine," and once again this chapter is not just about love medicine but also about stories. When Marie Kashpaw asks her grandson Lipsha to find her a love medicine so that Nector will return her love and forget Lulu, Lipsha initially tries to think of traditional love medicines such as special seeds, frogs caught in the act of mating, or nail clippings. But the love medicine he finally settles on is pure fiction, as all love medicines must be. First he invents the idea for the love medicine: he sees a pair of geese and thinks that if he feeds the hearts of birds that mate for life to his grandparents that will surely be a powerful love medicine. When he fails to shoot the geese, he decides to buy two turkey hearts instead, and he convinces himself that the medicine will still work since it is faith that really matters:
I thought of faith. I thought to myself that faith could be called belief against the odds and whether or not there's any proof. How does that sound? I thought how we might have to yell to be heard by Higher Power, but that's not saying it's not there. And that is faith for you. It's belief even when the goods don't deliver.… Faith might be stupid, but it gets us through. So what I'm heading at is this. I finally convinced myself that the real actual power to the love medicine was not the goose heart itself but the faith in the cure.
He is, in essence, saying that a myth to believe in, something to "get us through" is more important and more powerful and traditional love medicine. And indeed, in this chapter, it is the story that proves to be the true love medicine. When Marie is convinced that Nector's ghost is returning because of the love medicine, Lipsha tells her the truth about the turkey hearts:
Love medicine ain't what brings him back to you, Grandma. No, it's something else. He loved you over time and distance, but he went off so quick he never got the chance to tell you how he loves you, how he doesn't blame you, how he understands. It's true feeling, not no magic. No supermarket heart could have brung him back.
She looked at me. She was seeing the years and days I had no way of knowing, and she didn't believe me. I could tell this. Yet a look came on her face. It was like the look of mothers drinking sweetness from their children's eyes. It was tenderness.
Lipsha, she said, you was always my favorite.
Though his stories cannot cause his grandfather to fall in love with his grandmother, his words do work medicine between Lipsha and his grandmother. She feels the depth of his love for her in the words he speaks to ease her pain and in the stories and lies he creates to help her, and his words evoke from her a mother's love for him, the love he has longed for always. The story of Lipsha's mother is perhaps the most powerful example of the story as love medicine. All of his life he is told that his mother tried to drown him in the slough and that Grandma Kashpaw rescued him, although everyone else knows that June was his real mother and that Grandmother Kashpaw took him in because June was already married to Gordie when she became pregnant with Gerry's child. When Lulu tells him that he is the son of June and Gerry he is shocked. He does not, at first, know what to do with this powerful new story of his life. He "couldn't take it in." Lulu has given him "knowledge that could make or break" him, and he does not at first know which it will do. But as he pieces together the story of his life, the love medicine of the story begins to work its magic. He gets to know his father, and learns about his mother. He sees how miserable and bitter King, June's acknowledged son has become, and he makes peace with the story of his life. When Gerry says, "Enough about me anyhows … What's your story?" he is able to answer without bitterness. He can tell his story now, and his only "problem" is that he is running from the army police. In this instance, too, a story saves him, for Gerry is able to tell him that he, like all men in his family, will fail the army physical because of an irregular heart rhythm. Knowing the story of his past allows him to avoid a future of running needlessly. And finally, knowing the true story of his life, he is able to forgive and love the mother who gave him up and the grandmother who took him in:
I thought of June.… How weakly I remembered her. If it made any sense at all, she was part of the great loneliness being carried up the driving current. I tell you, there was good in what she did for me, I know now. The son that she acknowledged suffered more that Lipsha Morrissey did. The thought of June grabbed my heart so, but I was lucky she turned me over the Grandma Kashpaw.
Knowing his story allows him to be reborn. The story functions as a love medicine, allowing him to love his mother, his grandmother, his father, and most importantly, himself. Speaking of Chippewa beliefs and myths, Victoria Brehm states, "They considered all stores to be true, whether they classified them as daebaudjimowin (chronicles from personal experience) or Auwaetchigum (what Western cultures describe as myths)." So, in love medicine, the personal stories and the cultural myths of these people are woven together and intermixed, but they are all "true" stories, and all can function as love medicines.
Source: Donna Woodford, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale, 1999.
In the following excerpt, Schneider examines the unifying role that storytelling plays within Erdrich's novel and between characters in the novel.
Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine has been regarded as simply a collection of short stories, lacking in novelistic unity and overriding structure. Yet despite shifts in narrative style and a virtual cacophony of often individually unreliable narrative voices, Erdrich successfully weds structure and theme, style and content. For the novel is as much about the act of storytelling as it is about the individual narratives and the symbols and interrelationships which weave them together thematically. In Love Medicine, storytelling constitutes both theme and style. Erdrich repeatedly shows how storytelling—characters sharing their troubles or their "stories" with one another—becomes a spiritual act, a means of achieving transformation, transcendence, forgiveness. And in this often comic novel, forgiveness is the true "love medicine," bringing a sense of wholeness, despite circumstances of loss or broken connections, to those who reach for it. Moreover, the novel is in itself the stylistic embodiment of Erdrich's theme; as a series of narratives or chapters/stories shared with the reader, the work as a whole becomes a kind of "love medicine" of forgiveness and healing in its own right.…
[T]he means by which Erdrich's characters learn to internalize and integrate past with present is through the transformative power of storytelling. A non-Native reader, or any reader, is not the sole audience to these stories, for it is the characters themselves who, within the course of the narratives, begin this recovery of stories as they move beyond gossip to share with one another intimate revelations of highly personal desires, guilts, and troubles. It is in the personal stories that the characters tell each other that the real spiritual force of the novel can be felt.
Stories as "love medicine," moreover, provide the alternative in the novel to the characters' struggles with experiences of alcohol abuse, religious fanaticism, or compulsive sex relations, as well as the spiritual havoc that these kinds of seductive but hollow "love medicines" wreak on human relations. But although Erdrich focuses on the Chippewa experience, the troubles her characters experience are not exclusively "Indian problems." Erdrich herself sees the novel in terms of its articulation of "the universal human struggle," and her characters, as Bo Scholer has said of other Native literary depictions of alcohol-related themes, are motivated by "complex and ultimately profoundly human causes." These are problems common to every society, and the solution she posits is relevant for both Native and non-Native cultures alike. Forgiveness in Love Medicine is thus of the everyday variety, that which is extended from a child to a parent, a wife to a husband, brother to brother. Moreover, for Erdrich, forgiveness is not explanation, not unconditional, not forgetting. It is the transformation that comes through the sharing and recovery of stories, and the giving up of the notion of oneself as victim.…
The novel opens on Easter in 1981 with June Morrissey Kashpaw's thoughts and feelings, related in third person, as she commences upon the alcoholic binge which will lead to her death. June's death will affect all the other characters. In a radical revision of Christ's Easter resurrection, the death of this alcoholic Indian woman becomes the impetus which propels many of the other characters toward healing. In this scene, June is clearly reaching for something spiritual, something to hold on to in a life broken by divorce and disappointment. But she looks for her answers in a bar, and comes up empty. Intending to catch a noon bus for the reservation where she was raised, she stops at the invitation of a man to "tip down one or two." When she enters the barroom, the narrator tells us, "What she walked toward more than anything else was that blue egg in the white hand, a beacon in the murky air." Blue is the color of sky, of spirit and transcendence, signaling to her like a "beacon." But instead of the blue egg the man in the red vest peels her a pink one, thwarting her impulse and replacing it with the faded color of earth, of blood, of sexuality. When she drinks, it is "Blue Ribbon" beer and "Angel Wings," again symbolizing a frustrated spiritual instinct, and she says to the man, "Ahhhhh, you got to be. You got to be different." June seeks transformation through sex and alcohol, but the only metamorphosis they are able to bring is degradation and death.
The balance of chapter one shifts to the first person narrative of June's niece, Albertine Kashpaw, who introduces the theme of the recovery and sharing of stories. Albertine has been attending nursing school off-reservation, but returns several months after June's demise seeking a sense of completion with a death she cannot understand.
Albertine's denial of June's alcoholism may relate to her own psychic connection with June, a connection which becomes clearer in the central chapter entided "A Bridge," where the narrative spins back to 1973. There we learn that Albertine takes a journey remarkably similar to June's own, one that, but for small differences, could have resulted in equally tragic consequences. The two journeys are contrasted in almost every detail. Albertine has taken the bus to run away from the reservation. It is another "harsh spring," if not Easter then close to it, for we learn it is "not yet May." Albertine also sees something which she compares to a "beacon," but unlike June, interprets this to be a "warning beacon." Where the man June meets only looks familiar to her, the man Albertine sees in the bus station turns out to be Henry Lamartine Junior, another Chippewa whose family is known to her from the reservation. June wears white, the color of death in Chippewa culture, and Albertine wears black. June drinks "Angel Wings" with a man who doesn't listen to her, while Henry romantically whispers to Albertine, "Angel, where's your wings." When June enters the ladies room, "All of a sudden she seemed to drift out of her clothes and skin with no help from anyone"; Albertine, on the other hand, feels her body "shrink and contract" while alone in the bathroom, and feels herself becoming "bitterly small." Perhaps the greatest difference between the two is that while June intends to stop drinking after "a few" but cannot, the younger Albertine still retains some control: "She had stopped after a few and let him go on drinking, talking, until he spilled too many and knew it was time to taper off."
But in the opening chapter, Albertine only alludes to these links. She says:
I had gone through a long phase of wickedness and run away. Yet now that I was on the straight and narrow, things were even worse between [my mother and me].
After two months were gone and my classes were done, and although I still had not forgiven my mother, I decided to go home.
What Erdrich shows here is that simply getting on "the straight and narrow" is not enough; that alone does not fill the spiritual void that leaves Albertine full of resentment. It is in fact only the beginning, just as Albertine's return to the reservation is only the beginning of the novel. And just as the car she drives has "a windshield wiper only on the passenger side" and "the dust [hangs] thick," her vision is still obscured. But once she arrives home, she initiates the recovery of stories that begins a transformation process.…
Throughout the novel, the narratives balance and play off of one another, forming a crystalline structure with smoothly interwoven themes and symbols. And although each chapter is its own story, able to stand alone, taken all together the novel becomes a synergetic whole of chapters/stories about telling stories. The theme of storytelling as healing, as resolution, as spiritual, thus becomes incorporated into the structure of the novel itself. In contrast to the dust that obscures vision, and the water that drowns, in the final chapter the characters are humorously drinking 7-Up, and Lipsha says, "The sun flared"; with many stories told, nothing is forgotten, yet there is the strong sense of forgiveness and transformation.
Source: Lissa Schneider, "Love Medicine: A Metaphor for Forgiveness," in Studies in American Literature, Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring, 1992, pp. 1-13.
In the following excerpt, Matchie compares Love Medicine, which has been criticized for its lack of unity, to Herman Melville's Moby-Dick, asserting that Erdrich's work functions as a complete novel.
Published in 1984, Love Medicine is about a tribe of Indians living in North Dakota. Its author, Louise Erdrich, is part Chippewa and in the book returns to her prairie roots for her literary materials. Recently, Erdrich published another work entitled Beet Queen, also about the Red River Valley, and some of the same characters appear in both novels. Love Medicine is different from so much of Native American literature in that it is not polemic—there is no ax to grind, no major indictment of white society. It is simply a story about Indian life—its politics, humor, emptiness, and occasional triumphs. If Erdrich has a gift, it is the ability to capture the inner life and language of her people.
Since its publication, Love Medicine has won several national awards. Still, critics see in it a serious lack of unity—it was originally published as a series of short stories or vignettes. Also, some think it has little connection to authentic Indian values; students at the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota identified more with Giants in the Earth, Rölvaag's epic novel about white immigrants on the Dakota prairie. My contention is just the opposite, that the book does function as a whole, though this may not be immediately evident, and that the author is highly aware of Indian history and tradition, which emerge in subtle ways, helping us to understand the mystery of existence, whatever our color or ethnic origin.
While reading the novel it may help, strangely enough, to keep in mind another novel, Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. These two works may seem far apart, one about the sea—"in landlessness alone lies the highest truth"—and the other about the Dakota prairie, the geographic center of North America. But one of Erdrich's characters, Nector Kashpah, sees himself as Ishmael—"call me Ishmael," he says, after escaping a particularly difficult situation. If one looks further into the matter, it becomes evident that there are many ways these two books are alike. First, they have similar episodic or disjointed structures. Then, the major characters in one story seem to draw upon those in the other. And through it all, the same motifs (e.g., water and fishing, wildness—particularly among the males, preoccupation with power as well as the importance of the heart, the alternating realities of life and death, concern with colors, especially white and red) appear again and again. Indeed, it may be that the truest unity and deepest values of Love Medicine come clear when juxtaposed with Melville's classic novel of the sea.
In regard to structure, Love Medicine begins with a short account, told in third person, of the death of June Kashpah in 1981 in the boomtown of Williston, North Dakota. Then the novel proceeds with many short, seemingly unrelated episodes—some descriptive/narrative, some dramatic—told from multiple perspectives, but all about life on and off the reservation over a period of fifty years (1934-1984). Each vignette centers on shattered family life and the alienation of individuals. The parts may indeed seem dissimilar, unless one views them in an organic way, much as Moby-Dick in 1850 represented a departure from the classic or three-part structure so common at that time. Moby-Dick, of course, is about the disintegration of a ship, not only physically, but spiritually, for the purpose of the voyage and the unity of the crew collapse, all because of Ahab's preoccupation with one white whale. It begins with Ishmael's narrative, but then switches to everything from descriptions of the whaling industry, to poetic monologues, to dramatic episodes both comic and tragic. The parts, though different, are interposed erratically and often unexpectedly, but in the end they work together toward the whole. And that is how one must view Love Medicine.
In both cases the circle, so indigenous to Indian life, governs all, though in the case of the structure of Love Medicine, it takes fifty years to see it. Moby Dick starts with Ishmael's leaving New Bedford, contemplating many kinds of images of death (e.g., in the chapel, through Fr. Maple's sermon, in the Sprouter-Inn, in the prophecies of Elijah). Then, after the wreck of the Pequod (named after an extinct tribe of Indians), he surfaces in a circular vortex as he rises out of the chaos before coming home. In Erdrich's novel the action starts with June's death and then, after going back in time through a series of chaotic scenes dealing with Indian family life, circles back to the beginning when June's lost son Lipsha surfaces—rises psychologically and spiritually, not only to discover his real mother and family, but in his words to "cross the water, and bring her home."
Undoubtedly, Erdrich did not set out to write a book like Moby-Dick, but like Melville she writes about what she knows best—Indian life in this century—and like him she seeks through her characters the answers to some profound questions about human existence. It is in this context that she parallels in broad and general ways Melville's pattern of development, themes, characterizations, and motifs to create a virtual allegory of his work. In many ways her novel mirrors his, for her Dakota prairie can be as wild as his ocean typhoons, just as his sea can be as calm and dreamy as the midwestern prairie. Indeed, as we shall see, the motif of wildness runs through the novel, but the character most directly exhibiting this quality is Nector Kashpah, who sees himself as reliving Moby-Dick. Nector literally connects the various Indian families on the reservation; himself a Kashpah, he marries Marie Lazarre Morrissey, but never loses his passion for Lulu Lamartine, a promiscuous mother of a girl and at least nineteen boys, one of whom is Nector's.
Midway in the book Nector, a type of figure not uncommon in Melville because he is both comic and tragic, says:
I kept thinking about the one book I read in high school … Moby Dick the story of the great white whale. I knew that book inside and out. I'd even stolen a copy from school and taken it home in my suitcase.…
"You're always reading that book," my mother said once. "What's in it?'
"The story of the great white whale."
She could not believe it. After a while, she said, "What do they got to wail about, those whites?'
I told her the whale was a fish as big as the church. She did not believe this either. Who would?
"Call me Ismael," I said sometimes, only to myself. For he survived the great white monster like I got out of the rich lady's picture [he'd been paid by a rich lady to disrobe for a painting she called "Plunge of the Brave"]. He let the water bounce his coffin to the top. In my life so far, I'd gone easy and come out on top, like him. But the river wasn't done with me yet. I floated through the calm sweet spots, but somewhere the river branched.
Here is where he falls headlong again for Lulu.
One of the ironies of the novel is that Nector is not really Ishmael at all, but more like Ahab, in that he is an irrational figure who thinks he can control all worlds—the Kashpahs and the Lamartines, his wife's and his lover's. A member of a most respected family and the chairman of the tribe, Nector becomes the victim of his sexual passions, falling for Marie as she escapes from the Sacred Heart Convent, but equally possessed with the beautiful and lascivious Lulu, into whose waters he continually sails to satisfy his fantasies. He finally concludes:
I try to think of anything but Lulu or Marie or my children. I think back to the mad captain in Moby Dick and how his leg was bit off. Perhaps I was wrong, about Ishmael I mean, for now I see signs of the captain in myself.
In trying to burn a letter he's written to Lulu saying he is leaving Marie, he actually sets fire to Lulu's house—an event reminiscent of Ahab's burning masts in Moby-Dick —before returning sheepishly to Marie. In the end he dies a pathetic old man, one who has literally lost his mind and has "to have his candy." He chokes to death on turkey hearts, the ironic symbol of his erotic needs and manipulative ways.
The Ishmael who discovers the real "love medicine" is Lipsha Morrissey, the bastard son of June Kashpah—the one who brings Nector the hearts. Like Melville's narrator, he is a wanderer who has to discover in painful ways the meaning of his universe and how he fits. He has to find that his true mother is June, who dies on her way home crossing the prairie. He has to find that his brother is King, his boyhood tormentor, disrupted by the Vietnam War and as wild and torn as Nector.…
But most of all Lipsha has to find that his father is the perennial criminal Gerry Nanapush, one of the older sons of Lulu Lamertine.… With this discovery late in the novel, Lipsha combines in his own person the larger symbolic family of the Chippewas. He does all this as a kind of innocent observer, like Ishmael, who only occasionally takes part in the action. But out of the death and destruction of his people he, unlike Nector-Ahab and his male counterparts, accepts the responsibility for his life and worth as he rises to the surface in the end. He is the one who truly "connects" all, for he completes the cycle begun by his mother whose spirit he now brings home.
If there is a parallel to Moby-Dick in Love Medicine, it is June Kashpah. She dies early in the novel, but like the great white whale, her presence pervades the entire story and gives it depth. She is not there and yet there. Sometimes she even "comes alive," as when Gordie thinks the deer in his back seat, stunned and yet moving, is June herself. Initially having run away from Gordie, June is hungry and picked up in Williston by a stranger, whom she thinks is "different," but after falling from his truck, perishes walking across the cold white prairie as she "came home." In this early vignette, Erdrich captures the bleakness and boredom at the center of so much Indian life in this century. It is that dark side of life, the side which preoccupies Ahab in Moby-Dick, something he equates through the white whale with an "inscrutable malice" behind the universe—a mask he wants to penetrate. Erdrich does not philosophize as much as Melville, but this concept of evil is a legitimate way of viewing the source of so many of the destructive aspects of Indian life depicted in Love Medicine. It is interesting that when June's inlaws—Gordie and Zelda and Aurelian—recall her life, one of the dominant incidents they remember is their trying to hang her, and her egging them on, like some kind of evil mind. Love Medicine, like Moby-Dick, is a type of journey to penetrate the enticing but illusive mask that conceals the mystery of evil.
As the story unfolds, however, we discover a beautiful side to June, much as Ishmael sees a mystifying and uplifting aspect to the white whale to counter Ahab's view. June has been raised by Eli, Nector's brother, the moral center of the novel, who lives in the woods and represents the old Indian past. At one point in the novel the irascible King insists that Eli have his hat, on which are the words the "World's Greatest Fisherman," for all agree Eli deserves it most. June is inevitably associated with Eli, with water, with fishing, with the good in the Kashpah history. All the Kashpah women admire June, as do her husband Gordie and son King, to whom she leaves money for a car. Like so many of the males, however, King's destructive wildness keeps him from being the responsible human being his mother wanted; this is left for Lipsha to achieve. June, then, is a driving force behind the Chippewa world, but the reader must pick between the beautiful and humanizing aspects of such a presence, and what Ishmael calls when reflecting upon the whiteness of the whale, "the allcolor of atheism"—the possibility that behind the Indians' life patterns (which are now white patterns) is not much of anything at all.…
[T]he characters—the Kashpahs, the Morrisseys, the Lamartines—whose stories stretch from 1934 to 1984, much as the characters on the Pequod evolve on the voyage to capture Moby-Dick.…
Good human relationships are important to both authors, and if Ishmael crosses cultures in making friends with the pagan harpooner Queequeg (who like Eli in Love Medicine is a kind of noble savage), Albertine is herself a halfbreed, red and white, the daughter of Zelda and the "Swede." She suffers because of her double-nature, but her return, like Ishmael's setting out, comes from her uneasiness and is an effort to escape loneliness and build human bridges. Curiously enough, Albertine has her own chaotic history, and just as Ishmael may be an innocent observer, but is taken in by Ahab's powerful dark influence, so is Albertine taken in. As Erdrich's story circles back in time we find that Albertine in 1973 at fifteen tries to run away from the reservation. She goes to Fargo, only to end up sleeping with Henry Lamartine Jr., one of Lulu's sons, on N. P. Avenue in the cheap Round Up Hotel. After making love, Albertine feels empty and wants to separate herself from him, whereupon he senses that she has "crossed a deep river and disappeared." In short, he needs her, and her horror pales beside his nightmare explosion. Like King, he has been damaged by the Vietnam War, and when he touches her the next day "weeping," she is now touched emotionally by the depth of their mutual loneliness.
In the beginning of the novel, however, Albertine returns to the reservation. Like Ishmael, she is not pure, but she has more distance than the others, having lived in a white woman's basement for some time away from home. Through her we meet Zelda and Aurelia. On the Pequod the chief mates, like Stubb and Flask, are skillful whalers, but not thinkers, and soon become extensions of Ahab's mind. The women of the reservation are also servants, but they are more free and happy people— like the harpooners in Moby-Dick who dine in an atmosphere of merriment following their humorless captain's meal. These women don't fight the system, run by the males, but they are basic to its existence—giving birth to the children, planting and growing the food, cooking and baking for the men—like Gordie and King and Lipsha, who unconsciously quarrel over and destroy the newly baked pies. Among the Nanapushes, Gerry leaves prison temporarily to impregnate Dot, who is then left to raise and feed the child. These women may be treated like dogs, as Ahab treats Stubb, but they keep the whole operation afloat. They maintain the land, encourage their men, survive catastrophe. The Pequod is a commercial enterprise where under contract the mates and harpooners follow their mad leader without question. The women in Love Medicine are not paid, but they keep the family itself intact, in spite of the alcohol, the violence, the abuse and misuse of one another.
Albertine identifies with these women—their fun, their hopes, but also their fears and worry about the men. In one of the most powerful scenes in Moby-Dick, Ishmael almost loses control of the ship as he gazes into the Try-Works (the red-hot pots of sperm oil), contemplating how intertwined are both the magnificent as well as the most hellish moments of life, even as the Catskill eagle flies high and yet at times swoops very low. Albertine-Ishmael, amid all the fighting and confusion, is worried about Lipsha and takes him for a walk in the fields, and gazing at the northern lights, she muses:
I thought of June. She would be dancing if there was a dance hail in space. She would be dancing a two-step for wandering souls [like Lipsha]. Her long legs lifting and falling. Her laugh an ace. Her sweet perfume the way all grown-up women were supposed to smell. Her amusement at both the bad and the good. Her defeat. Her reckless victory. Her sons.
So June, amid the high moments and the low, the bad and the good, gives substance to the Indians' quest for meaning. Lipsha will find himself in the end, but it is too early to know that now, and Albertine, his alter ego, can only hold his hand, and like Ishmael, try to keep the ship on course.…
There are other major incidents in Love Medicine that pick up key threads in Moby-Dick, like the close relationship between madness and wisdom. Both King Jr. and Henry Jr. are affected mentally by the Vietnam War to the point they become violent souls. Henry Jr., after a long drive with his brother Lyman, who cannot save him, drowns himself in his red convertible. In Melville's story, the castaway Pip loses his mind when Stubb will not save him from the sea, but he returns in his madness to offer sharp, bitter wisdom to Captain Ahab, and from him the captain accepts it. In Erdrich's world where one generation fails, the next seems to succeed, as when King Howard Kashpah Jr. (King and Lynette's young son), after all his father's rage, learns to write his name, Howard Kashpah, in school on a red paper heart. The marker label says "PERMANENT," and the teacher tells him "that means forever." So Howard in his Piplike childish wisdom undercuts the adult world around him to establish his own identity as a human being. In this way Howard parallels the growth in Lipsha Morrisey, the other son of June.
Colors, especially red and white, are also crucial in both novels, for they are a part of the very texture. White and red seem to go back and forth in Moby-Dick as the red heat of the tri-pots lights up the Pequod, just as do the tapering white candles or mastheads struck by lightning. In one case Ishmael philosophizes on life, while in the other Ahab commits himself to death. In Love Medicine the Indian is, of course, the redman living in a white world. June in the beginning has on a red nylon vest when the stranger in a white jacket "plunged down against her" with a "great wide mouth," as though she were entering the whale itself. Then there is the red convertible in which Henry Jr. drowns; the mark of white society, this is the machine that spells freedom, but it cannot solve basic human problems where so many are held psychologically captive.
Finally, there is the red of the heart itself—a powerful symbol in both novels. On the Pequod Ahab, just before the fatal chase, talks to Starbuck about the importance of the heart, family, love. His words are touching, coming from a man bent on destruction: "I … do what in my own … natural heart, I durst not… dare," he says. In Love Medicine both Lipsha and Howard come to know the meaning of the heart—Lipsha through the turkey hearts which kill his Ahablike grandfather, and Howard through the paper heart on which he writes his name. Lipsha says that love means forgiveness, that it is not magic, but a "true feeling." Later, when he discovers in a card game his true father and sees himself as part of the larger family, he says, "The jack of hearts is me." These awakenings give a kind of tragic joy to a story pervaded by so many deaths.
Love Medicine, then, is a book about the prairie that examines the wild, chaotic lives of several Indian families whose lives on the reservation have immersed them in a dark and often violent existence, one that the author seems to equate with Ahab. It is a world created by a white—shall we say malicious—intelligence, except that behind the scenes hovers an amazing human being, June Kashpah, whose life and recent death still give meaning and hope to its members. Albertine-Ishmael goes back to that world to experience again the rage dramatized by her grandfather Nector-Ahab, as well as other violent males. But she also discovers the values sustained by women like her mother, Zelda, and Aurelia and Dot Adare, but especially by Marie and Lulu, who in spite of the men and the systems and the power, give dignity and spirit to an otherwise hollow and violent world.
Out of the chaos emerges, through Howard and Lipsha, possible new worlds, just as June would have wished. Indeed, Lipsha-Ishmael begins to see the importance of love within all the families and in this way "brings June home" as he (to use Nector's words) lets "the water bounce his coffin to the top" in the end. Love Medicine is a novel about the land, but one which has so many parallels to Moby-Dick that it draws tremendous power when placed beside Melville's classic novel about the sea.
Source: Thomas Matchie, "Love Medicine: A Female Moby-Dick," in Midwest Quarterly, Vol. 30, No. 4, Summer, 1989, pp. 478-91.
D. J. R. Bruckner, a review in The New York Times, December 20, 1984, p. C21.
Louise Erdrich, "Scales," in Love Medicine, New York: HarperFlamingo, 1998, pp. 43, 201-202, 366.
Harriett Gilbert, "Mixed Feelings," in New Statesman, Vol. 109, No. 2812, February 8, 1985, p. 31.
Jascha Kessler, "Louise Erdrich: Love Medicine," in a radio broadcast on KUSC-FM—Los Angeles, CA, January, 1985.
Jeanne Kinney, in a review of Love Medicine, in Best Sellers, Vol. 44, No. 9, December, 1984, pp. 324-25.
Cynthia Kooi, in a review of Love Medicine, in Booklist, Vol. 81, No. 1, September 1, 1984, p. 24.
Gene Lyons, "In Indian Territory," in Newsweek, Vol. CV, No. 6, February 11, 1985, pp. 70-1.
Marco Portales, "People with Holes in Their Lives," in The New York Times Book Review, December 23, 1984, p. 6.
Michael Schumacher, in an interview in Writer's Digest, June, 1991, pp. 28-31.
Robert Towers, "Uprooted," in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXXII, No. 6, April 11, 1985, pp. 36-7.
Miriam Berkley, in an interview in Publishers Weekly, August 15, 1986, pp. 58-9.
Erdrich describes to Berkley how her many jobs have provided rich experiences from which to draw to create believable characters and their lives.
Robert Bly, in a review in New York Times Book Review, August 31, 1982, p. 2.
Poet Bly describes Erdrich's unique approach to telling a story through characters who speak at any time and in any place.
Victoria Brehm, "The Metamorphoses of an Ojibwa Manido," American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography, Vol. 68, No. 4, December, 1996, pp. 677-706.
Brehm discusses Erdrich's use of Native American mythology, specifically the figure of the water god, Micipijiu.
D. J. R. Bruckner, in a review in The New York Times, December 20, 1984, p. C21.
Bruckner applauds the lyrical quality of Love Medicine and Erdrich's rich characters.
Allan and Nancy Feyl Chavkin, eds., in Conversations with Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris, University Press of Mississippi, 1993.
A collection of 25 interviews with Erdrich and Dorris, this book includes a description of the unusual collaborative relationship the two share.
Mary B. Davis, ed., in Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia, Garland Publishing, 1994.
An alphabetized reference that includes works by Native Americans and other experts dealing with Native American life in the twentieth century.
Margaret J. Downes, "Narrativity, Myth, and Metaphor: Louise Erdrich and Raymond Carver Talk about Love," in MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, Vol. 21, No. 2, Summer, 1996, pp. 49-61.
A comparison of two novels about love, Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine and Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Downes says that she finds Erdrich's novel more satisfying because of the characters' belief in and use of myth and storytelling.
Louise Erdrich, in The Blue Jay's Dance, HarperCollins, 1995.
In this book, Erdrich chronicles her child's birth and first year of life. It examines the balancing act that working parents experience on a daily basis.
Paul Pasquaretta, "Sacred Chance: Gambling and the Contemporary Native American Indian Novel," in MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States, Vol. 21, No. 2, Summer, 1996, pp. 21-33.
An analysis of the gambling stories in novels by three Native American authors. Pasquaretta says that these gambling stories serve as a ritual site on which to contest the forces of corruption and assimilation.
Barbara L. Pittman, "Cross-Cultural Reading and Generic Transformations: The Chronotope of the Road in Erdrich's Love Medicine," in American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography, Vol. 67, No. 4, December, 1995, pp. 777-92.
An analysis of the road motif in Love Medicine. Pittman sees the motif as mediating between the Euro-American and Native-American traditions in which the novel participates.
Catherine Rainwater, "Reading Between Worlds: Narrativity in the Fiction of Louise Erdrich," in American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography, Vol. 62, No. 3, September, 1990, pp. 405-22.
Rainwater discusses the many sets of conflicting codes in Love Medicine. Rainwater claims that these codes frustrate the reader's expectations, but in so doing they also make the narrative more powerful.
Michael Schumacher, in an interview in Writer's Digest, June, 1991, pp. 28-31.
In this interview, Erdrich tells how her childhood experiences and heritage have influenced her writing.
Alan Velie, "The Trickster Novel," in Narrative Chance: Postmodern Discourse on Native American Indian Literatures, edited by Gerald Vizenor, University of New Mexico Press, 1989, pp. 55-6.
An analysis of the novel in terms of the picaresque, or trickster genre.