Monday, December 12, 2016

Love Medicine

Louise Erdrich. Love Medicine. HarperPerennial, 1993.


With Love Medicine, a first novel, Louise Erdrich won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1984. She has since published two dozen more best-selling novels. My favourite so far has been The Painted Drum. Erdrich has also revised, re-sequenced, and expanded Love Medicine. The copy I found at Amethyst Books in Chilliwack, BC, was published in 1993.

This novel is set on a Chippewa reservation in North Dakota. It appears to have begun as short stories, of several generations of characters, many speaking in the first person. They are linked by setting, and by secrets of the blood connections (including inherited physical features and inherited gifts or skills).

This novel took me way too long to read. Partly because of my own proofreading and admin responsibilities, for Embers (available on Amazon.ca and Amazon.con). And partly because the story was not strong enough to pull me back and into it. Told in multiple voices, over multiple periods of time, I felt confused, lost. I was not sure why. 

However, the beauty of the writing, the illumination of the characterizations, made me want to continue. The chapter titles, especially the interior titles which gave the date (the year this story's events happened) were helpful, but not enough. Sometimes too I worried about the stereotypes - drunkenness, promiscuity, cruel nuns, criminals, politicians - and especially the old "father's day on the reserve" joke which always seems to me to be an outsider view judging and othering others. Maybe she is trying to shatter stereotypes by focussing on the individual humanity of each character. I think that must be it.

Mostly I just kept asking myself: Now, who is this? I don't like having to make notes in order to keep the stories straight, nor to follow a genealogical chart, although that would spoil some of the revelations. A chart would take away the impact of some of the stories because many of the characters do not know who their real parents are and the epiphany of finding out is part of their personal identity quest.

Interesting insights, offerings (not sure I believe them but . . . ) about the way a women with eight children by eight different fathers thinks, and the way an adopted child feels. I would think that Love Medicine is a must-read on any Native North American literature curriculum. 

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