Love Medicine caused a critical stir when it was published in 1984. Made up of a series of fragmented though interconnected short narratives, each told by a different character, the story moves back and forth through time, unraveling the intricate connections between the Kashpaw, Morrissey, Nanapush, and Lamartine families—American Indians living in North Dakota on an Ojibwa reservation. Some commentators suggest that the novel is a portrayal of Turtle Mountain Reservation, but the landscape Louise Erdrich describes in the novel is similar to the landscapes of other reservations in Minnesota.
Erdrich drew heavily on the works of novelist William Faulkner for the structure of Love Medicine. The use of such techniques had been unprecedented, and indeed Erdrich had been criticized by American Indian writer Leslie Marmon Silko for being more interested in technique than in the problems experienced by American Indians. This criticism assumes, however, that novels by American Indians should be specifically about American Indians. While Erdrich does touch on such concerns, including the forced division of lands according to the Dawes Act (1887) and subsequent land-purchase scandals, as well as abuse by the Catholic Church and high rates of alcoholism, these issues come through as background.
Erdrich’s main subject is love: romantic love and family love and the ways in which people come to terms with their emotional needs. When Nector marries Marie, he is still in love with Lulu, a love that never really fades; he marries Marie only because he feels obligated to do so. By contrast, Marie considers Nector as her means of escape from life in a poor family. She is determined to make him a person of substance within the community, for her benefit as much as for his. Only in the end do they both realize how much they do actually feel for one another. Gerry’s devotion to Dot and his family is what fuels his need to escape from prison.
Marie struggles to construct a...
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