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Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

Love Medicine (original 1984; edition 2009)

by Louise Erdrich

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2,551472,363 (3.88)166
Title:Love Medicine
Authors:Louise Erdrich
Info:Harper Perennial (2009), Edition: Revised, Paperback, 400 pages
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Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich (1984)


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Nowhere on my edition of the book is it called a novel except in a blurb from a review. These are loosely connected stories that had a feeling of oral story-telling to them, passed down from one to another, with sharply drawn but not fully-developed characters and implications one only realizes later on. Erdrich is unsentimental but always compassionate toward life on the Indian reservation and its inhabitants. It's hard and brutal and there is not much joy or hope to be found. I did not, however, find this a bleak read, due in large part to Erdrich's eye for the absurd and her empathetic portrayal of these men and women. Some of the stories made me laugh and some brought tears to my eyes, but throughout, I reveled in the powerful prose. ( )
1 vote katiekrug | Apr 16, 2015 |
This isn't so much a novel as a loose conglomeration of episodes about related disfunctional families. ( )
  MarthaJeanne | Apr 7, 2015 |
Love Medicine is the first novel by Louise Erdrich, published in 1984 and later revised and republished both in 1993 and 2009. (This review is based on the 1993 edition.) The first chapter of the book is an award-winning short story that Erdrich wrote shortly after graduating with her M.F.A., and the characters introduced within those pages are expanded on throughout the book. Love Medicine switches back and forth between first and third person narrative, jumps in time chronologically, and changes which character is narrating frequently. These changes are not only from chapter to chapter but sometimes within chapters as well, so this is not strictly a ploy to force the plot forward or simply a way to get multiple perspectives on a single event (although sometimes this latter one does end up being the case) but an intentional choice of writing style. This mode of storytelling, along with how these characters end up appearing in some of her later books as well, draws frequent parallels between Erdrich's writing and that of William Faulkner. This style has also lead many people to refer to this novel as a book of short stories instead or as a series of interrelated vignettes.

In terms of plot, there is not much of a linear one to Love Medicine; it is the story of two family clans on a Native American reservation in North Dakota and the various ways their lives intersect. Some of these intersectional ties are due to marriage and love affairs, others through familial relations (sometimes with illegitimate children not knowing who their biological parent(s) are), and still others through working situations. This edition helpful includes a family tree, which I found myself constantly referring to, although some of the relationships were too complex to even show up on this simplified depiction. But the plot (or lack of it) is not what made this book so compelling. Erdrich's writing style is lyrically beautiful; when I read that she started her writing career in poetry, I realized that the element I couldn't identify in her prose immediately was that it was poetic. Even when writing about bleak events and dysfunctional families, Erdrich managed to do so in a way that was aesthetically pleasing. This alone would have been enough to make this book a good read certainly worthy of its being on the list of 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die.

Still, the book has yet another thing to recommend it: its characters. I'll admit that the first 20 or 30 pages were a bit of a struggle while I tried to grasp a hold on to who all the characters were and how they related to one another. Even though I still had to refer to the family tree at times after that, by the second or third chapter I was wholly sucked into the book and reveling in its characterizations. While there's not really anyone in this book that I would want to be friends with per se, Love Medicine provides a plethora of varied and interesting characters. The characters cover a wide berth of different demographics including both sexes, various ages, and degrees of multiracial diversity. There wasn't a single character in here, even those only tangentially related to main story, who didn't feel realistic. Complex and sometimes competing motivations moved these characters forward in their lives more so than standard plot points.

While I was happy with the ending presented here, the characters were so compelling that I would love to read about them again. Technically, Love Medicine is considered the first in a series of books; however, it seems that Erdrich's books are not strictly serialized in terms of the story simply progressing forward chronologically in another book. After doing some research to find out which book came next and finding very different results (including whether or not particular titles were even part of the series or not, or what the series' title is), the conclusion I was drawing is that Erdrich writes new novels that sometimes feature characters from a previous tale but the books are not necessarily interdependent. I could be wrong, but that seems to be what the case is. At any rate, I will definitely be reading some of her other books in the near future after enjoying this one so much. ( )
1 vote sweetiegherkin | Feb 7, 2015 |
Native American on the skids and in love. Good author.
Noted during my 1980's attempt to read every book in my small town library.
  juniperSun | Dec 4, 2014 |
(this review was originally written for Bookslut)

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich is exactly what I would want out of a "Best Books" list. Something unexpected but brilliant, foreign yet familiar. Love Medicine has a little bit of everything, all centered in a place rarely visited by most fiction: a reservation.

Erdrich shouldn't be new to me, but she is. Her novel Tracks was an assigned text in college, in one of those rare classes where you couldn't slide by without reading the books. But somehow or another, I slid by, only reading twenty pages or so. It's not that it wasn't good, but it was college, and there were so many other interesting things to do. Having read Love Medicine now, I would rearrange my to-read pile to put Tracks closer to the top, but I think it's been lent out somewhere, and has yet to find its way back home.

Going and finding home are themes that run throughout Love Medicine, which is not so much a novel as a collection of short stories that wind tightly into each other. Each story bleeds through the rest, as we see the same characters over and over again, at different stages of their lives. Some stories take us far from the North Dakota reservation most of the characters would call home, while a many never leave it. But all those that leave eventually return. "The Red Convertible" winds from Winnipeg through Montana and Washington before heading back home. "Saint Marie" treks up the hill to the convent and then back down again to the reservation. The characters of Love Medicine have a sense of home that few of us do anymore.

To have such a fierce connection to a particular place is indeed unusual in this modern age of rootlessness. I read this book in Michigan, visiting my husband's parents, after having visited my own in Kansas, but I was soon to return to Arizona, where I am living now, far from any family of either my husband's or myself. Love Medicine made me yearn for a home like that, even despite the price some of the characters pay for the strength of their bonds.

For instance, in my favorite story of the collection, "Scales," home is not so much a place for Gerry as it is a person, Dot. So time after time, after breaking out of prison (and bragging that "no steel or concrete shitbarn could hold a Chippewa,") Gerry returns to Dot. Never mind that Gerry is 6'2" and no good at hiding. Never mind that every time, sooner or later the police show up at Dot's place looking for Gerry. For Gerry, Dot is home, and there is no place else he wants to be.

Erdrich's writing is simple and powerful, and above all else it is captivating. Her stories ring with both magic and truth. Whether you consider Love Medicine to be a collection of short stories or a novel, it is truly a gem of a book. ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 46 (next | show all)
''Love Medicine'' is an engrossing book. With this impressive debut Louise Erdrich enters the company of America's better novelists, and I'm certain readers will want to see more from this imaginative and accomplished young writer
There are at least a dozen of the many vividly drawn people in this first novel who will not leave the mind once they are let in. Their power comes from Louise Erdrich's mastery of words. Nobody really talks the way they do, but the language of each convinces you you have heard them speaking all your life, and that illusion draws you quickly into their world, a place of poor shacks stuck amid the wrecks of old cars and other junk made beautiful in Miss Erdrich's evocation.
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Grandma Mary Gourneau, Gertrude Crow Dog and my brothers Mark, Louis, Terry (Amikoos), and Raoul, and my friend Earl Livermore were some people especially in my thoughts as I wrote this book. I could not have written it this way without Michael Dorris, who gave his own ideas, experiences, and devoted attention to the writing. This book is dedicated to him because he is so much a part of it.
Grandma Mary Gourneau, Gertrude Crow Dog, and by brothers Mark, Louis, Tery (Amikoos), and Raoul, and my friend Earl Livermore were some people especially in my thoughts as I wrote this book. I could not have written it this way without Michael Dorris, who gave his own ideas, experiences,m and devoted attention to the writing. This book is dedicated to him because he is so much a part of it.
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The morning before Easter Sunday, June Kapshaw was walking down the clogged main street of oil boomtown Williston, North Dakota, killing time before the noon bus arrived that would take her home.
The morning before Easter Sunday, June Kashpaw was walking down the clogged main street of the oil boomtown Williston, North Dakota, killing time before the noon bus arrived that would take her home.
Right and wrong were shades of meaning, not sides of a coin.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060786469, Paperback)

The stunning first novel in Louise Erdrich's Native American series, Love Medicine tells the story of two families -- the Kashpaws and the Lamartines. Written in Erdrich's uniquely poetic, powerful style, it is a multigenerational portrait of strong men and women caught in an unforgettable drama of anger, desire, and the healing power that is love medicine.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:35 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

The lives and destinies of the Kashpaws and the Lamartines intertwine on and around a North Dakota Indian reservation from 1934 to 1984, in an authentic tale of survival, tenacity, tradition, injustice, and love.

(summary from another edition)

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