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.