I think there is evidence to support that Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine is more triumphant than tragic, though the novel is filled with its share of tragedy. Families are torn apart; husbands and wives leave or cheat, we see addictive behaviors, post-traumatic stress-driven suicide, etc. I think that the triumph can be seen in the various characters who refuse to let themselves be destroyed by the heartache they experience. Instead of giving up, they make hard decisions within, and decide to survive.
In "Saint Marie," Marie is a thirteen-year old Native American youngster who goes to live with the nuns, but is not treated well at Sacred Heart Convent. Marie ends up in a battle with Sister Leopolda who is having (as Marie sees it) a personal battle with Satan. Sister Leopolda sees Satan in Marie and tries to break her spirit, but goes too far. Sister scalds Marie with boiling water, sticks her in the hand with a fork and knocks her unconscious with a poker.
Marie is anything but a saint, and Marie has seen the truth that Sister Leopolda is no saint either. She has tormented Marie while all the time fighting off Satan in her own life. Ironically, when Marie regains consciousness, the sisters are gathered around her. Sister Leopolda has told the others that Marie has experienced the "blessing" of a stigmata—a wound like that of Christ during his crucifixion. The Sister has done this to save herself after her attack of Marie (who really drove Sister beyond reason). Marie wants to be vindicated, for it has been a contest of wills for her. However, by the end, Marie has also been humbled for Sister Leopolda's sake.
I pitied her. I pitied her. Pity twisted in my stomach like that hook-pole was driven through me. Pity twisted in my stomach...
While she had intended to make the sister suffer, Marie changes her mind. I see triumph in Marie's decision to rise above her desire to hurt Sister Leopolda, despite the Sister's actions toward her.
Another aspect of triumph is in "The Good Tears," which is the story of Lulu Lamartine. Lulu has not been a woman to inspire respect from others. She has slept with any man she want to sleep with, regardless of whether they were married. (Except for Bev—Lulu wouldn't marry a married man.) The one man she could never get out of her system was Nector Kashpaw. Though married to Marie, Lulu had his son. But there was bad blood between Lulu and Nector. When he tried to take her house, she set the dogs on him. When she told him that she was marrying Bev, she saw hate in his eyes. One day her house burned down, and she was sure it was Nector.
However, after Nector dies, Lulu needs help to put drops in her eyes. Lulu admits that she does not cry like women do. When Nector dies, there are no tears. Ironically, the only person who can put drops in her eyes is Marie. They don't speak of Nector. Marie notes...
Someone has to put the tears in your eyes.
Both women are mourning.
We did not talk about Nector. He was already there...It was enough just to sit there without words. We mourned him the same way together...It was enough. For the first time, I saw exactly how another woman felt, and it gave me deep comfort, surprising.
In this way, Marie and Lulu put the past aside and become allies.
There is triumph here as two women who have experienced pain at the hands of the same man are able to find peace between each other, rather than blame. And finally Lulu can care about the feelings of others.