How does Lyman provide a different perspective on one of the characters from Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich?  

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lyman Lamartine is from Louise Erdrich's novel, Love Medicine, in the chapter entitled, "The Red Convertible."

The story is about Lyman and his brother Henry. The brothers share a close relationship, and a good bit of it surrounds the red convertible which they bought with money Lyman received when his cafe was destroyed.

Lyman, being so close to his brother, is able to provide a before and after "shot" of Henry: before he went to Vietnam and after he returned.

Before Henry left, the two had a lot of fun together. They traveled all the way to Alaska simply to give a girl a ride home, and then stayed for a while. The young men knew how to live in the moment and not push too hard. Life came to them as it does with everyone, but their approach was different: they were easy going and lived spontaneously.

When Henry returns home from Vietnam, is a a changed man. Henry, as Lyman sees it, seems to have lost his joy for life, his ability to live in the moment. All Henry wants to do is watch TV, as if it takes him to a place where he does not need to live, but can only "be.' Lyman knows something special has left his brother, and he tries desperately to wake it, as if it were only sleeping inside him somewhere.

Eventually, Lyman bangs up the convertible, sitting in the garage since Henry came home. Lyman seems to come out of his "trance," and joins the world again. Lyman is hopeful his brother is now taking steps toward recovery. Everyday the car is closer to its original condition.

Lyman stops momentarily to describe a picture that provides insight to the changes in Henry, and foreshadowing as well. Their sister Bonita took the snapshot before Lyman and Henry took their trip to the Red River.

...the shadows on [Henry's] face are deep as holes. There are two shadows curved like little hooks around the ends of his smile, as if to...keep it there—that one, first smile that looked like it might have hurt his face.

Lyman and Henry drive through the beautiful landscape that surrounds them. There is hope in the world coming to life around them:

When everything starts changing, drying up, clearing off, you feel like your whole life is starting. Henry felt it, too...It's not that he smiled again or even joked, but his face looked to me as if it was clear, more though he wasn't thinking about anything in particular...

Lyman tries to get Henry to come  back to him: all of a sudden, Lyman knows exactly how his brother has been feeling—and it makes him frantic.

The two argue about the car; they get into a fistfight. It isn't long before they are laughing, and then Henry begins to dance. Lyman thinks: "'s the old Henry again."

Henry wants to swim, and jumps into the high, raging river. The current carries him away: he doesn't swim. He simply lets go and follows its flow, even while his boots fill and he slips under. Lyman tries to save him, but can't. Climbing out of the water, Lyman directs the empty car into the river where Henry had entered it. Finally, there is only the sound of the water running...running...just as Henry had tried to run from the ghosts that lived in his heart.

Because the brothers are so close, Lyman can provide a different perspective to Henry's story—by showing the reader the Henry of the past and comparing him to the Henry who comes back. Lyman's brother hadn't been "alive" anymore; it seems his life was already over long before he stepped through the back door. One might say Henry "died" in Vietnam.

Read the study guide:
Love Medicine

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