In Louise’s Erdrich’s novel, the intertwining strands of family love and obligation provide much of the plot structure. The ways that individuals move away from their birth families and form new families, and the kinds of family-like but socially unsanctioned relationships, are equally important for Love Medicine’s characters. Erdrich also implies that those who struggle to reconnect with their families, or are left isolated or alienated from social bonds, often feel incomplete; some of those characters completely rupture their ties through taking their own life. The extent to which community, especially through shared Native American heritage, can expand or substitute for immediate kinship relations is also explored throughout the novel. We see this especially in Gerry Nanapush as he embarks on the journey of political activism through the American Indian Movement (AIM).
Going back to the earlier generations, Erdrich shows how one person’s decision can have lasting consequences. June Kashpaw’s literal inability to reach her home, connected with her emotional and psychological distance from Native life, sets in motion some of those effects. Although in future generations, Albertine pursues a “white” occupation of nursing, in striving to learn her heritage, the uncomfortable truth is not always welcome.
Along with the Kashpaws, the other main lineage that Erdrich traces are the Lamartines. The devoted but imperfect matriarch Lulu Lamartine, for example, has complex relationships with her sons. When Henry returns damaged from the war, his re-entry problems and ultimate suicide affect his brothers, especially when they find they cannot be honest with their mother, thus confirming the limits of family bonds.