Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1984, Love Medicine began as a short story. Its author, Louise Erdrich, in close collaboration with her husband, Michael Dorris, planned it as a novel, yet many readers view it as a series of interconnected stories with reappearing characters, themes, and settings; indeed, many of the individual chapters have been anthologized as short stories. Love Medicine forms part of a short story cycle; although published before the others, it chronologically takes place after Tracks (1988) and Tales of Burning Love (1996). Erdrich’s style has been highly praised for its lyricism, on the one hand, and for its crisp, direct clarity, on the other.
The stories in Love Medicine, told from different characters’ points of view, begin in 1981, move back to 1934, and then conclude in 1948, a fragmentation that obliquely underscores the fragmentation of the Native Americans themselves. Several times the narrators relate the same scene from several different perspectives. Set on the Chippewa reservation in North Dakota, the stories focus on the Kashpaw, the Lamartine/Nanpush, and the Morrisey families. The first and one of the most memorable stories is that of June Kashpaw, who meets her death in a blizzard on Easter Sunday. The story is told from the perspective of her niece, a college student, who struggles to understand the meaning of June’s death. As Louis Owens observes, however, June is something of a trickster figure, and after her death, she constantly reappears, like Christ, in the subsequent stories, thereby confl ating her Native American and Christian background (195). In the subsequent stories appear such unique characters as Lulu Lamartine, a passionately intense woman, also a trickster fi gure; Marie Lazarre, a strong-willed woman who passes on that strength to her children; Nector Kashpaw, who loves Lulu but married Marie and fathered their child, June; and Sister Leopolda, whose confusion over her identity and her place in the world of the reservation sent her into the convent. (In Tracks, we learn that Leopolda, or Pauline, is actually Marie’s mother.)
Critics have pointed out that part of Erdrich’s success in the stories of Love Medicine lies in her refraining from pointing the fi nger of blame at her white readers, with whom the book has been both a popular and a critical success (Owens 205). Beneath the warmly human tales, some told with a comic voice, some with a deeply tragic one, however, Erdrich provides a complex and compassionate portrait of a dispossessed people.
Owens, Louis. Other Destinies: Understanding the American Indian Novel. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992.
Wiget, Andrew O. “Louise Erdrich.” In The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 3rd ed. Edited by Paul Lauter. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.