As with any piece of art, the intent of the creator can change when the art interacts with people who bring their own life experiences to it—interacting uniquely with that piece of art. This is my perception of the significance of Chapter One's title, "The World's Greatest Fishermen" in Louise Erdrich's novel Love Medicine.
June is introduced in the chapter, but this is in no way the beginning of the story. The chronology of the book is shuffled. Ironically, this chapter is the end of June's life. What strikes me most is her memory of the mud engineer, killed when a pressurized hose broke through the ground, stabbing him in the gut and killing him. June compares the hose to a snake.
It was the hose, she thought, snaking up suddenly from its unseen nest, the idea of that hose striking like a live thing...
The pain of this memory, a tragedy that took the life of someone she only half knew, is fresh within her. It haunts her. Connected to that pain is the man, Andy, that June has just picked up with. With a vision of the hose coming up "with its killing breath," she thinks—and says to Andy—"You got to be different." This is her wish.
Later she goes to the Ladies room, and she has an "out of body experience." Inside, she feels fragile, as if she could easily fall apart with the "slightest touch." She...
...remembered his hand, thumbing back the transparent skin and crackling blue peel.
This brings to mind the skin of a fish.
Then, as she leans her head down to rest...
...something happened. All of a sudden she seemed to drift out of her clothes and skin with no help from anyone. Sitting, she leaned down and rested her forehead on the top of the metal toilet-roll dispenser. She felt that underneath it all her body was pure and naked—only the skins were stiff and old. Even if he was no different, she would get through this again.
Andy, then, is another fisherman. The hose she recalls is like the hook (perhaps even a sexual symbol) . She will take a chance that he won't be a danger to her like other "fishermen" before him. In that moment, it is as if her skin has been removed—she is pure and naked. With this "fisherman," Andy, she thinks she can survive again. But the "skins" (alluding to a fish, but also to part of her that has thickened with each "attack") are stiff and old. This foreshadows a true lack of strength. She appears youthful from a distance, but she has really had enough.
She goes out into Andy's pickup, where they try to have sex. But Andy simply moves against her—still clothed. He calls her by another woman's name. Perhaps it is now she feels "what might have been" becomes "what is," as he passes out on top of her.
This man, like all the other "fishermen"...
in her life, has caught her—like so many times before. However, her experience in the bathroom has changed her somehow. Again she thinks of her fragile state—that if she stays in the truck, she "would crack wide open..." into "many pieces." Falling out, "it was a shock like being born."
In this moment, it seems June has been released from her earthly pain—from the "stream of life" where she has been forever hooked by another "predator." She begins to walk home (a bus trip, not a stroll). The weather changes, but she is free..."she did not lose her sense of direction." Her spirit moves on. Her frailty falls away; she ignores the snow.
June walked over it like water and came home.
In life, she froze to death that day—but was reborn to another plane.