Study Guide

Love Medicine

by Louise Erdrich

Love Medicine Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Love Medicine is a series of tales (many of them originally published independently) which explore the ties of blood, knowledge, love, and mystery that link three generations of Chippewa people. As independent stories told from the viewpoint of various members of the Kashpaw, Lamartine, and Nanapush families, the tales have many strengths. One is the use of language that subtly reflects each narrator. The images, phrasing, and vocabulary of the urbanized characters, such as Beverly Lamartine, differ from the language of those whose lives still center on the reservation; the expressions used by some people in the older generation (particularly Marie Lazarre) suggest translation from thoughts that come in another language. Even in the youngest generation, Albertine Johnson, who leaves the reservation to go to college, uses words quite differently from her cousin Lipsha, who stays behind.

Each story has a sharp focus, an interesting narrative line, and images that expose the event without intervening explanation. Furthermore, the novel created by weaving these tales together is stronger than any of its parts. The first story takes place in 1981, the second in 1934—and midway in the second story, the reader begins to understand that the young girl Marie Lazarre who tells about fighting devils in the convent is the same person as Grandma Kashpaw, who was fetched from the senior citizens’ home in the first story. As one tale follows another in a sequence that skips back and forth through the years, one pleasure for readers is simply fitting together the jigsaw puzzle, teasing out the identities hidden in the various names that result from marriages, unwed parenthood, and children fostered by neighbors or relatives, and realizing, with sudden delight, that one is getting a second viewpoint on an incident already known from an earlier story.

The individual stories are fragmentary; the book does not attempt a complete history of the families. Most stories focus on a significant crisis, though some include background narration. In the first, June Kashpaw is picked up by an oil worker in a boomtown and then dies in the snow walking back toward the reservation; the subsequent sections of that story reveal (indirectly) the complicated reactions of her various kin. Several stories show, in bits, the triangular relationship between Marie Lazarre, Lulu Lamartine, and Nector Kashpaw, which began in 1934 and is not resolved until forty-eight years later, after Nector’s death. Other stories focus on Lulu’s sons, suggesting the damages wrought by conventions of manliness in both Indian and white society. The essence of the book, however, grows from the relationship between stories and from the reader’s ability to derive meaning from the reappearance of central thematic material.

Love Medicine Summary (Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

A dazzling meld of Native American storytelling and postmodern literary craft, Louise Erdrich’s first novel, Love Medicine, was an immediate success. It quickly made the best-seller lists and gathered an impressive group of awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award for best first novel, the Virginia McCormack Scully Prize for best book of 1984 dealing with Indians or Chicanos, the American Book Award, and the Los Angeles Times award for best novel of the year.

Sad and funny, realistic and lyrical, mystical and down-to-earth, the novel tells the story of three generations of four Chippewa and mixed blood families—the Kashpaws, Morriseys, Lamartines, and Lazarres—from the 1930’s to the 1980’s. Seven separate narrators tell their own stories in a discontinuous time line, each a puzzle piece of its own, but by the novel’s end there is one story, one jigsaw puzzle picture of lost identities and the often humorous but always meaningful efforts of a fragmented people to hold on to what is left to them.

The characters in Love Medicine experience individual forms of alienation caused by physical and emotional separation from the communal root of their existence. They contend with the United States government and its policies of allotment and commodities; the Catholic church, which makes no allowances for the Chippewas’ traditional religion; and with the seductive pull of life off the reservation, a life that cuts them off from the community whose traditions keep them centered and give them a sense of their identities. These three factors place the characters under the constant threat of loss of their culture. Erdrich makes this clear, but she presents the lives of her Native American characters as human experiences that readers who have no background in Native American cultures can readily understand. The three generations of characters in Love Medicine surface as human beings who deal with an unfair world with strength, frailty, love, anger, and most of all, a sense of humor.

Love Medicine Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In 1981, June Kashpaw is traveling home when she is called into a bar by a man she thinks she knows. She needs money so agrees to leave with him, out into the winter countryside; they have sex in his car. Moved by a feeling she cannot explain, June gets out of the car and starts walking through the snow. She is never again seen alive.

June’s niece, Albertine Johnson, hears about her aunt’s death much later, after the funeral, when her mother writes to let her know. Albertine is angry, as she had been fond of her aunt, but sees the late notice as typical for the Kashpaw family. The family’s complex structure generates incomprehensible drama, and the family’s history goes back to the time of Rushes Bear and the division of American Indian land. June had married her cousin, Gordie Kashpaw, to general disapproval, leading this latest generation into even more drama.

After June’s disappearance, Albertine’s mother, Zelda, and her Aunt Aurelia had organized a family gathering. Joining Albertine at the gathering are June’s son, King Kashpaw; his wife, Lynette; and their son, King, Jr. Brothers Nector and Eli Kashpaw still hold the family’s land. Nector, married to Marie, had been educated in the white school, while Eli had remained at home—hidden—and received a more traditional education. Nector and Eli represent two strands of family history, and Albertine feels at a loss to retrieve much of that history now that Nector’s memory is fading.

The family gathering is contentious. King, Jr., is drunk, abusive, and violent. He has used his mother’s insurance money to buy a large new car and feels guilty about doing so. Unable to articulate his grief over his mother’s death, he and Lynette fight, damaging the pies being baked for the gathering. Albertine, meanwhile, has fled with another of June’s sons, Lipsha Morrissey, who had been adopted by the Morriseys. Lipsha and Albertine sit in the darkness, talking. Allegedly, Lipsha does not know his father’s name.

Fifty years earlier, Marie Lazarre is determined to become a nun at the Sacred Heart Convent, having been a pupil at the school. However, she is bullied and abused by one of the nuns and runs away. She encounters Nector as he heads to the market, and in a bizarre encounter, they have sex. They later marry, even though Nector had been determined to marry Lulu Nanapush.

Fifteen years later, Marie, who has rejected the Lazarre family, reluctantly takes in June, her sister’s daughter. Later, she becomes reluctant to raise her own son, Lipsha. June’s cousins attempt to hang June, at her own urging. Eventually, she rejects Marie’s family and moves into the woods with her Uncle Eli.

It is now 1957, and Lulu Lamartine, formerly Nanapush, has led a wild life. She has eight sons, although it is not clear who their fathers are. Beverley Lamartine, brother of Lulu’s late husband Henry Lamartine, thinks Lulu’s youngest child, Henry, Jr., is his and wants to claim him. He has dreamed of raising Henry, Jr., but cannot get up the courage to ask Lulu. In the end, he leaves without Henry.

Nector reflects on life with his wife, Marie, who has adopted many children to compensate for the loss of her own. He begins an affair with Lulu and determines to leave Marie for her. When he changes his mind, he burns his letter to Lulu, and in doing so accidentally burns down Lulu’s house, a mystery that remains unsolved for many years. When she discovers Nector’s letter to Lulu, Marie determines to ignore it and hold on to Nector.

It is now 1973, and Albertine is thinking about her dreams of leaving for the city and meeting Henry, now home from his time in Vietnam. She goes to his hotel room, reluctantly, and they go to bed together. While in the grip of post-trauma nightmares, Henry rapes her.

Henry’s brother Lyman recalls the car that he and Henry jointly bought and refurbished. After Henry had returned from the war, traumatized, Lyman had vandalized the car to prompt a response from Henry. Henry restores the car a second time, and he and Lyman take a drive. Lyman tells everyone later how he had witnessed Henry’s death. He claims that Henry killed himself by driving the car into a river.

It is now 1980, and Albertine is remembering the story of Gerry Nanapush—a career criminal, alleged murderer, and serial “escaper”—and his wife, Dot. Dot is pregnant, and Gerry is desperate to get out of prison to be with her for the birth of their child. He escapes, briefly, and is caught and taken back to jail.

Lipsha, who had been raised by Marie and Nector, has stayed with them but is conscious that he is only tolerated by Marie. He thinks about his relationship with them, and of Nector’s declining memory. Lipsha has healing skills but, despite Marie’s urging, finds he cannot do anything for Nector; indeed, he is not sure he should try to help him. He is aware of Nector’s affair with Lulu and is present when Nector confesses to having caused the fire that destroyed Lulu’s house. Lulu, however, does not understand the concern, and the issue is dropped. Lipsha eventually makes a love medicine for Marie and Nector, at Marie’s request, because she believes that he is still chasing Lulu. Nector chokes on the medicine and dies, but Marie is content, believing that he returns to her from beyond the grave. Lulu and Marie finally make their peace and become friends. Together they work on local issues.

After hearing the truth from Lulu, Lipsha finally reveals that he knows the identity of his mother and his father, Gerry Nanapush. Lipsha, who is running from the military police, has a vision that his father is about to escape from prison, so he heads for Minneapolis to meet him. Here, he runs into his childhood tormentor, King, who also knows that June was Lipsha’s mother; because of this, King hates Lipsha. The two find Lipsha’s father, who reveals that in the past, King had turned informer against him. They play cards for ownership of June’s car, and Lipsha wins—he had cheated. The authorities soon arrive to recapture Gerry, but he escapes. Later, Lipsha takes his father to the Canadian border.

Love Medicine Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Love Medicine is both the title and the main thematic thread that ties fourteen diverse short stories into a novel. Although it refers specifically to traditional Indian magic in one story, in a broader sense “love medicine” refers to the different kinds of spiritual power that enable Erdrich’s Chippewa and mixed-blood characters to transcend—however momentarily—the grim circumstances of their lives. Trapped on their shrinking reservation by racism and poverty, plagued by alcoholism, disintegrating families, and violence, some of Erdrich’s characters nevertheless discover forms of “love medicine” that can help to sustain them.

The opening story, “The World’s Greatest Fishermen,” begins with an episode of “love medicine” corrupted and thwarted. In 1981, June Kashpaw, once a woman of striking beauty and feisty spirit, has sunk to the level of picking up men in an oil boomtown. At first she hopes a man she meets will be “different” from others who have used and discarded her, then tries to walk to the reservation through a snowstorm. June fails in those last attempts to attain love and home, two goals she and other characters will seek throughout the novel. Although she appears only briefly in this and in one other story, June Kashpaw is central to the novel because she embodies the potential power of spirit and love in ways that impress and haunt the other characters.

Part 2 of “The World’s Greatest Fishermen” introduces many other major characters of Love Medicine, when June’s relatives gather together several months after her death. Several characters seem sympathetic because of their closeness to June and their kind treatment of one another. Albertine Johnson, who narrates the story and remembers her Aunt June lovingly, has gone through a wild phase of her own and is now a nursing student. Eli Kashpaw, Albertine’s great-uncle who was largely responsible for raising June, is a tough and sharp-minded old man who has maintained a traditional Chippewa existence as a hunter and fisherman. Lipsha Morrissey, who, though he seems not to know it, is June’s illegitimate son, a sensitive, self-educated young man who acts warmly toward Albertine.

In contrast to these characters, others appear flawed or unsympathetic according to Albertine, who would like to feel her family pulling together after June’s death. Zelda and Aurelia, Albertine’s gossipy mother and aunt, host the family gathering but do little to make Albertine feel at home. Albertine admires “Grandpa,” Zelda’s father Nector Kashpaw, for having once been an effective tribal chairman, but Nector has become so senile that Albertine cannot communicate with him. Gordie Kashpaw, the husband whom June left, is a pleasant fellow but a hapless drunk. In marked opposition to Lipsha, June’s legitimate son King is a volatile bully. Although King gains some sympathy when he voices his grief over his mother’s death, his horrifying acts of violence—abusing his wife, Lynette, battering his new car, smashing the pies prepared for the family dinner—leave Albertine and readers with a dismayed sense of a family in shambles.

Love Medicine then moves back in time from 1981, and its stories proceed in chronological order from 1934 to 1984, presenting ten earlier episodes in the lives of the Kashpaws and related families and three later episodes that follow the events in “The World’s Greatest Fishermen.” “Saint Marie” concerns a poor white girl, Marie Lazarre, who in 1934 enters Sacred Heart Convent and a violent love-hate relationship with Sister Leopolda. In “Wild Geese,” also set in 1934, Nector Kashpaw , infatuated with Lulu Nanapush, finds his affections swerving unexpectedly when he encounters Marie Lazarre on the road outside her convent. By 1948, the time of “The Beads,” Marie has married Nector, had three children, and agreed to raise her niece June. Marie’s difficulties multiply: Nector is drinking and philandering, and June, after almost committing suicide in a children’s hanging game, leaves, to be brought up by Eli in the woods.

“Lulu’s Boys,” set in 1957, reveals that the amorous Lulu Lamartine (née Nanapush) had married Henry Lamartine but bore eight sons by different fathers; years later, she still has a mysterious sexual hold over Henry’s brother Beverly. Meanwhile, in “The Plunge of the Brave,” also set in 1957, Nector recalls the development of his five-year affair with Lulu and tries to leave his wife Marie for her. All ends badly when he accidentally burns Lulu’s house to the ground.

The offspring of these Kashpaws and Lamartines also have their problems. In “The Bridge,” set in 1973, Albertine Johnson runs away from home and becomes lovers with Henry Lamartine, Jr., one of Lulu’s sons, who is a troubled Vietnam veteran. “The Red Convertible,” set in 1974, also involves Henry, Jr., as Lyman Lamartine tries unsuccessfully to bring his brother out of the dark personality changes that service in the Vietnam War has wrought in him. On a lighter note, “Scales,” set in 1980, is a hilarious account of the romance between Dot Adare, an obese white clerk at a truck-weighing station, and Gerry Nanapush, one of Lulu’s sons who is a most unusual convict; enormously fat, amazingly expert at escaping from jail, but totally inept at avoiding capture. “A Crown of Thorns,” which overlaps the time of “The World’s Greatest Fishermen” in 1981, traces Gordie Kashpaw’s harrowing and bizarre decline into alcoholism after June’s death.

Although in Love Medicine’s early stories the positive powers of love and spirit are more often frustrated than fulfilled, in the last three stories several characters achieve breakthroughs that bring members of the different families together in moving and hopeful ways. In “Love Medicine,” set in 1982, Lipsha Morrissey reaches out lovingly to his grandmother Marie and to the ghosts of Nector and June. In “The Good Tears,” set in 1983, Lulu undergoes a serious eye operation and is cared for by Marie, who forgives her for being Nector’s longtime extramarital lover. Finally, in “Crossing the Water,” set in 1984, Lipsha Morrissey mentions that Lulu and Marie have joined forces in campaigning for Indian rights, and he helps his father, Gerry Nanapush, escape to Canada. As Lipsha heads home to the reservation, he comes to appreciate the rich heritage of love, spirit, and wiliness that he has inherited from his diverse patchwork of Chippewa relatives—especially from his grandmother Lulu, his aunt Marie, and his parents, June Kashpaw and Gerry Nanapush.

Love Medicine Summary

The World's Greatest Fishermen (1981)
The novel opens with June Kashpaw walking down the main street of Williston,...

(The entire section is 1386 words.)

Love Medicine Summary and Analysis

Summary and Analysis Chapter 1

New Characters
June Kashpaw: A main character, an attractive woman traveling through North Dakota who is divorced from Gordie.

Andy: A mud engineer and the last person June talks to before she dies.

Albertine Johnson Kashpaw: June’s niece who is a medical student.

Zelda Kashpaw: Albertine’s mother.

Aunt Aurelia Kashpaw: Albertine’s aunt, Zelda’s sister; lives in the Kashpaw family’s main house on the reservation.

King Kashpaw: June and Gordie’s son, father of their grandchild, King Junior, and owner of the Firebird bought with June’s insurance money.

Lynette: King’s wife and mother of King Junior who is white and is always fighting with King. She dislikes...

(The entire section is 1363 words.)

Summary and Analysis Chapters 2 - 3

New Characters
Sister Leopolda: A mean-spirited nun at the convent and Marie’s schoolteacher and nemesis.

Lulu Nanapush: Nector’s serious crush whom he is supposed to meet later that night and who later marries Henry Lamartine.

Summary
Chapter two begins with a flashback to 1934 when Marie, who is later to become Grandma Kashpaw, is ready to join the convent of the Sacred Heart. She is fourteen and wants to be a saint, and the convent is her only chance, as she sees it, of escaping the dreariness of reservation life. Her classes with Sister Leopolda have shown Marie that the Sister has an understanding of Satan that gives her purpose and meaning. Marie wants...

(The entire section is 911 words.)

Summary and Analysis Chapter 4

New Characters
Lucille Morrissey: June’s mother and Marie Kashpaw’s sister who died in the woods.

The Morrissey: A Lazarre who is also June’s father.

“The old one”: A Lazarre who brings June to Marie Kashpaw.

Summary
In 1948, June Morrissey is brought to Marie Kashpaw’s door, just as June’s son Lipsha would be brought later. Marie Kashpaw already has too many children, but the story of June surviving alone by eating pine sap touches her, so she takes in her sister’s child. The girl is gaunt and has a bead necklace given to her by the Cree Indians, who found her, in order to protect themselves from her. She never takes it off. Marie...

(The entire section is 708 words.)

Summary and Analysis Chapters 5 – 6

New Characters
Henry Lamartine: Lulu Nanapush’s husband who committed suicide.

Beverly Lamartine: Henry’s brother who believes Henry Junior is his son.

Henry Junior: Born nine months after the funeral for Henry Lamartine, Henry Junior is Lulu’s son and possibly the son of Beverly.

Elsa: Beverly’s girlfriend at his home in the Twin Cities.

Summary
In 1957, Beverly returns to the reservation to try to claim Henry Junior, the boy he thinks is his son. During his brother’s funeral, Beverly had consoled the distraught Lulu, who had fallen into the open grave. Henry Junior was born nine months later. Beverly works selling after-school...

(The entire section is 1359 words.)

Summary and Analysis Chapter 7

Summary
In 1957, Sister Leopolda is near death. She has grown increasingly insane in her final years, banging on iron bedsteads with a spoon and ranting about Satan. Marie decides to visit before the sister dies. Because she knows that Satan loves Sister Leopolda more than others, Marie is in no danger of believing Sister Leopolda to be a saint of any kind. So Marie puts on her good royal plum dress, cleans up her daughter Zelda, and they head up the hill together.

When they walk into the dark closet where Sister Leopolda lives, Marie is struck with pity at her shrunken, skinny state, but Sister Leopolda immediately starts in with the insults. After Sister Leopolda insults Marie’s dress, her...

(The entire section is 1104 words.)

Summary and Analysis Chapters 8 - 10

New Characters
Lyman Lamartine: Henry Junior’s brother, one of Lulu’s boys.

Gerry Nanapush: Lulu’s son, a prison escapee for most of his (free) life, who is dating Dot Adare.

Dot Adare: A fierce, strong-willed pregnant woman who knits and fights with equal determination and who is dating Gerry.

Officer Lovchik: Town police officer who repeatedly arrests Gerry.

Summary
In 1973, Albertine runs away from home by taking a bus to the city. She holds all of her belongings on her lap, wrapped up in a sweater bundle. Since the bus fare took all of her money, she sits in the station until inspiration strikes as to what to do next. The sight...

(The entire section is 1598 words.)

Summary and Analysis Chapter 11

New Characters
Sister Mary Martin de Porres: A clarinet playing, insomniac nun at the Sisters of the Sacred Heart convent.

Summary
Although Gordie and June had been fast friends when they were young, marriage had a negative effect on their relationship, causing them to fight excessively. But nevertheless, losing June was too much for Gordie, and he began to drink heavily after her death. One drunken evening, sitting alone and thinking of June, he calls out her name.

Superstition has it that calling a loved one who is dead brings them to you. This instantly enters Gordie’s mind, and he is terrified. He turns on the vacuum cleaner and the radio and the TV, but...

(The entire section is 656 words.)

Summary and Analysis Chapter 12

Summary
Lipsha Morrissey narrates chapter twelve, which is set in 1982. He is at the beck and call of Grandma Kashpaw, who took him in and raised him as a young child. He’s always been told that his real mother tried to drown him in a potato sack, but he is grateful to Grandma Kashpaw for her love.

Lipsha may not have done much with his life, but he was born with “the touch.” His hands can heal, and he can feel the energy flowing through bodies. The only exception to his ability to touch and heal is Grandpa Kashpaw, who is just too smart, too stubborn, and now too broken-down and crazy. Lipsha does not want to meddle in the mind of someone so smart, especially someone he loves, because he is...

(The entire section is 1053 words.)

Summary and Analysis Chapter 13

Summary
Lulu Lamartine narrates chapter thirteen, which is set in 1983 prior to Nector’s death but after Lulu has moved out of her house on reservation land. She begins by defending herself against the gossips of the town, who accuse her of sleeping around. Although she does not deny her actions, she defends them as an excess of love rather than promiscuity, per se.

The one boy that Lulu dated but never got over was Nector Kashpaw. Because he married Marie, she ignored him when they met in town, but he was the one she fantasized about during her two marriages. After Henry Lamartine died and Nector began visiting once a week, he had to bring meat scraps to feed to the guard dogs, and she made him...

(The entire section is 1147 words.)

Summary and Analysis Chapter 14

Summary
This chapter opens with first-person narration from King Junior, in which we learn that he has chosen to be called by his middle name, Howard.

The narration then switches to Liphsa Morrisey’s point-of-view. Lipsha has just been told by Lulu that Gerry was his father, and now Lipsha wants to meet him. Lulu has also told him that June was his mother, but of course there is no way for him to meet her. Lulu’s motivation for telling Lipsha is simple—she has nothing to lose and a grandson to gain. Lulu also tells him that Gerry is being transferred to a low-security prison, and Lipsha has a good chance of being able to find him if Gerry breaks out as he usually does.

...

(The entire section is 883 words.)

Summary and Analysis Revised Edition Chapter 4

In 1993, Louise Erdrich published a revised and expanded edition of Love Medicine. Four chapters were added, each further exploring the novel's characters.

Summary
Lulu was abandoned by her mother as a child. Missing her greatly, Lulu rebels, eventually running away from the government school where she is constantly under some form of punishment. Her uncle Nanapush writes to her, and Lulu goes to the reservation to live with him and his wife Margaret, who calls herself “Rushes Bear.”

Rushes Bear does not like Lulu and often criticizes her. Having raised all of her own children (including Nector and Eli), Rushes Bear was looking...

(The entire section is 1014 words.)

Summary and Analysis Revised Edition Chapter 14

In 1993, Louise Erdrich published a revised and expanded edition of Love Medicine. Four chapters were added, each further exploring the novel's characters.

Summary
After Nector’s death, Marie finds much to keep her busy. Cleaning house, she sorts through Nector’s belongings, deciding what to keep and what to give away. Among his belongings she finds a decorated rawhide bag containing a peace pipe. She examines it carefully, caressing it to her face, and then puts it away for Lipsha.

Awakening the next morning, with a full day of canning and preserving to do, she looks out the window and sees her son Gordie walking into...

(The entire section is 1032 words.)

Summary and Analysis Revised Edition Chapter 16

In 1993, Louise Erdrich published a revised and expanded edition of Love Medicine. Four chapters were added, each further exploring the novel's characters.

Summary
Told from the viewpoint of Lyman Lamartine, the son of Lulu and Nector, this chapter expounds on the relationship between Lulu and her son. Following the suicide of Henry Junior, Lyman believes himself to be a changed man. He has lost his magic touch with money. If he rises in the world, he believes, it is at the expense of someone else. His relationship to his brother was problematic, but it was real and cannot be ended by death. Lyman is bothered by the tradition that...

(The entire section is 1133 words.)

Summary and Analysis Revised Edition Chapter 17

In 1993, Louise Erdrich published a revised and expanded edition of Love Medicine. Four chapters were added, each further exploring the novel's characters.

Summary
After the destruction of his factory by the workers in the brawl begun by Marie and Lulu, Lyman is determined to try again, but this time with a new plan of his own. No longer deluded by his interfering mother, he decides to turn the factory into a casino.

Lyman has read that the laws of North Dakota will be revised in order to allow games of chance on reservation land. Confident that eventually a new law will be passed, Lyman begins to put his plan into...

(The entire section is 971 words.)