Love Medicine Additional Summary

Louise Erdrich


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In 1981, June Kashpaw is traveling home when she is called into a bar by a man she thinks she knows. She needs money so agrees to leave with him, out into the winter countryside; they have sex in his car. Moved by a feeling she cannot explain, June gets out of the car and starts walking through the snow. She is never again seen alive.

June’s niece, Albertine Johnson, hears about her aunt’s death much later, after the funeral, when her mother writes to let her know. Albertine is angry, as she had been fond of her aunt, but sees the late notice as typical for the Kashpaw family. The family’s complex structure generates incomprehensible drama, and the family’s history goes back to the time of Rushes Bear and the division of American Indian land. June had married her cousin, Gordie Kashpaw, to general disapproval, leading this latest generation into even more drama.

After June’s disappearance, Albertine’s mother, Zelda, and her Aunt Aurelia had organized a family gathering. Joining Albertine at the gathering are June’s son, King Kashpaw; his wife, Lynette; and their son, King, Jr. Brothers Nector and Eli Kashpaw still hold the family’s land. Nector, married to Marie, had been educated in the white school, while Eli had remained at home—hidden—and received a more traditional education. Nector and Eli represent two strands of family history, and Albertine feels at a loss to retrieve much of that history now that Nector’s memory is fading.

The family gathering is contentious. King, Jr., is drunk, abusive, and violent. He has used his mother’s insurance money to buy a large new car and feels guilty about doing so. Unable to articulate his grief over his mother’s death, he and Lynette fight, damaging the pies being baked for the gathering. Albertine, meanwhile, has fled with another of June’s sons, Lipsha Morrissey, who had been adopted by the Morriseys. Lipsha and Albertine sit in the darkness, talking. Allegedly, Lipsha does not know his father’s name.

Fifty years earlier, Marie Lazarre is determined to become a nun at the Sacred Heart Convent, having been a pupil at the school. However, she is bullied and abused by one of the nuns and runs away. She encounters Nector as he heads to the market, and in a bizarre encounter, they have sex. They later marry, even though Nector had been determined to marry Lulu Nanapush.

Fifteen years later, Marie, who has rejected the Lazarre family, reluctantly takes in June, her sister’s daughter. Later, she becomes reluctant to raise her own son, Lipsha. June’s cousins attempt to hang June, at her own urging. Eventually, she rejects...

(The entire section is 1083 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Love Medicine is both the title and the main thematic thread that ties fourteen diverse short stories into a novel. Although it refers specifically to traditional Indian magic in one story, in a broader sense “love medicine” refers to the different kinds of spiritual power that enable Erdrich’s Chippewa and mixed-blood characters to transcend—however momentarily—the grim circumstances of their lives. Trapped on their shrinking reservation by racism and poverty, plagued by alcoholism, disintegrating families, and violence, some of Erdrich’s characters nevertheless discover forms of “love medicine” that can help to sustain them.

The opening story, “The World’s Greatest Fishermen,” begins with an episode of “love medicine” corrupted and thwarted. In 1981, June Kashpaw, once a woman of striking beauty and feisty spirit, has sunk to the level of picking up men in an oil boomtown. At first she hopes a man she meets will be “different” from others who have used and discarded her, then tries to walk to the reservation through a snowstorm. June fails in those last attempts to attain love and home, two goals she and other characters will seek throughout the novel. Although she appears only briefly in this and in one other story, June Kashpaw is central to the novel because she embodies the potential power of spirit and love in ways that impress and haunt the other characters.

Part 2 of “The World’s Greatest Fishermen” introduces many other major characters of Love Medicine, when June’s relatives gather together several months after her death. Several characters seem sympathetic because of their closeness to June and their kind treatment of one another. Albertine Johnson, who narrates the story and remembers her Aunt June lovingly, has gone through a wild phase of her own and is now a nursing student. Eli Kashpaw, Albertine’s great-uncle who was largely responsible for raising June, is a tough and sharp-minded old man who has maintained a traditional Chippewa existence as a hunter and fisherman. Lipsha Morrissey, who, though he seems not to know it, is June’s illegitimate son, a sensitive, self-educated young man who acts warmly toward Albertine.

In contrast to these characters, others appear flawed or unsympathetic according to Albertine, who would like to feel her family pulling together after June’s death. Zelda and Aurelia, Albertine’s gossipy mother and aunt, host the family gathering but do little to make Albertine feel at home. Albertine admires “Grandpa,” Zelda’s father Nector Kashpaw, for having...

(The entire section is 1061 words.)


(Novels for Students)

The World's Greatest Fishermen (1981)
The novel opens with June Kashpaw walking down the main street of Williston,...

(The entire section is 1386 words.)