Dorothy's Reviews > Love Medicine

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich
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Jul 16, 11

bookshelves: contemporary-literature
Read from July 12 to 15, 2011

Louise Erdrich can surely string words together! What is amazing to me is that in this, her very first book, published in 1984, she was able to string them together with such a sure and confident touch. The book is now 27 years old and I don't know why it took me so long to get to it, but I'm very glad that I finally did. The stories told here of the Kashpaw and Lamartine families of the Chippewa Reservation - and off the reservation - stand up well over time. They are just as relevant, poignant, and funny, that is to say just as human, today as when first published.

The stories begin with a death, the lonely death in a North Dakota snowstorm of a Chippewa woman named June Kashpaw. She was just trying to make her way home at Easter in the deepest snow that had fallen in the area in forty years. Although June disappears from the book in the first few pages, her presence lingers throughout. She continues to impact her family and everyone who cared for her. She is never truly dead to them.

The stories that Erdrich tells are of a people existing on the edges of civilization, halfway between the old ways and the new. They are caught in a time warp, as they try to hold on to the best of their past while at the same time making accommodations in order to survive in the white man's world. The stresses are enormous and many of the Chippewa seek release in alcohol which creates further stresses of its own, often tearing families and individual lives apart.

The women in Erdrich's stories are the glue that holds everything together. They are strong and passionate and they are keepers of the memories of the past. They are the providers who keep the families fed and cared for. Her description of some of the scenes of food preservation reminded me of my own mother, a farm wife who spent summers canning vegetables and fruits by the hundreds of jars. I found that I knew and understood these women very well.

The stories are told in the voices of their various characters and they all ring true. They feel and sound right. Their tone helps us to understand and empathize with each speaker.

The book does not tell a linear story. It goes back and forth in time and back and forth between characters. The result is a patchwork effect of story-telling, but when the reader looks at the whole, she can see the full pattern and it is beautiful. That is the talent of Louise Erdrich, to make us look at a people and see things that perhaps we had not seen before and to see that it is all part of a whole that makes sense.
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