Summary and Analysis Chapter 1
June Kashpaw: A main character, an attractive woman traveling through North Dakota who is divorced from Gordie.
Andy: A mud engineer and the last person June talks to before she dies.
Albertine Johnson Kashpaw: June’s niece who is a medical student.
Zelda Kashpaw: Albertine’s mother.
Aunt Aurelia Kashpaw: Albertine’s aunt, Zelda’s sister; lives in the Kashpaw family’s main house on the reservation.
King Kashpaw: June and Gordie’s son, father of their grandchild, King Junior, and owner of the Firebird bought with June’s insurance money.
Lynette: King’s wife and mother of King Junior who is white and is always fighting with King. She dislikes the Kashpaw family.
King Junior Kashpaw: June’s grandson and King and Lynette’s son.
Grandma Kashpaw: Formerly Marie Lazarre, she is married to Nector Kashpaw. She is from a poor family of heavy drinkers and is the matriarch of the Kashpaw family.
Grandpa Nector Kashpaw: Eli’s twin, once a lively and vivacious man, who is now quiet and seemingly senile. As a youth, he attended boarding school and learned white ways.
Rushes Bear: Grandpa’s mother who married the original Kashpaw and received the original allotment of land, which was divided among her eighteen children.
Eli Kashpaw: Nector’s twin, a woodsman who also owns land on the reservation.
Gordie Kashpaw: Zelda, Aurelia, and June’s brother and King’s father. He is a heavy drinker.
Lipsha Morrissey: A foundling taken in by Grandma Kashpaw who is later disclosed to be June’s son.
Love Medicine, one of Louse Erdrich's most popular works, opens with June Kashpaw, a member of the Chippewa tribe. The Kashpaws grew up on reservation land, and although some have left the reservation, most of the family still lives near each other on the land allotted to them.
As the novel opens, June is broke and at the end of her rope. She has a bus ticket back to the reservation, but on her way out of North Dakota, she stops to have a drink with Andy, whom she does not know, though he looks familiar. It becomes clear that men pay June’s way wherever she goes, and she repays them with sex. At first, she struggles against the notion of continuing this pattern with another man. She briefly goes through a period in which she feels fragile and vulnerable, but she is relieved when she finally drives off with Andy into the cold night. After they have sex in Andy’s car, June walks off into the snow and dark and dies.
At this point, the narration focuses on Albertine, June’s niece. She receives a cold and unfeeling letter from her mother, Zelda, notifying her that June is dead. Albertine is away at medical school and knows that June wouldn’t have been caught in a snowstorm by accident. June, after all, “grew up on the plains. Even drunk she’d know a storm was coming.” Zelda thinks of June as a no-good gold-digger, but Albertine is quite fond of her aunt and mourns her. June was quite beautiful, and her search for a wealthy man to support her does not seem cheap to Albertine. Despite her anger with her mother, Albertine decides to return to the reservation that both she and June grew up on in order to deal with June’s death.
When Albertine enters her Aunt Aurelia’s kitchen, she finds Zelda and her aunt making pies. They had been talking about June’s shortcomings, but the talk quickly turns to Albertine’s shortcomings (mostly that she’s a career girl without a Catholic husband).
This discussion is interrupted by the arrival of King, June’s son, in a fancy red car. He is accompanied by his wife, Lynette, whom he continually threatens to hit, and his son, King Junior. Tucked in the backseat are Grandma and Grandpa Kashpaw. Grandpa Kashpaw is senile and left staring in the yard, while everyone else returns to the kitchen, where Grandma Kashpaw tells a story about how Zelda, Aurelia, and Gordie almost hung June, at June’s insistence. It becomes clear that King’s new car was bought with insurance money from...
(The entire section is 1,363 words.)