I bought this copy of Love Medicine on a whim while picking up groceries recently. I remembered loving Louise Erdrich from a Native American lit class I took in undergrad, but didn’t remember that I’d already read this novel. Come to find out, I hadn’t read this exact story. This is the 25th anniversary edition of the book. (It doesn’t say that on the cover. Well done, crafty book publishers.) Erdrich explains in the afterword that she removed one chapter from the original, and moved another to the very end. There is also a hilariously dry Q+A section with the author at the end of this edition.

My O'Keeffe

Of course, it’s been more than a decade since I read this book the first time. I didn’t notice the changes. What I did notice was the lyrical writing and how beyond belief, I fell in love with a crazy mish mash of Native Americans living somewhere near the Canadian border. My geography in this book isn’t great — and it isn’t important to the story.

What is important is the family tree kindly provided by the author at the beginning of the book. Like Garcia Marquez’ 100 Years of Solitude, you’ll need it to understand the story until just about the last page unless you have a photographic memory.

Sedona red rocks3

Although these Native Americans are not Arizonan, the story brought me home. To the large reservation I passed each day driving to work in north Scottsdale. To the mesas east of Flagstaff. To the crimson earth of northern New Mexico, where you can drive for hours and see only rusting trailers, a colorful line of wash flapping in the wind the only sign of life, other than the occasional herd of wild paints and pintos running in the distance.

Driving through the desert

Erdrich writes in a way that makes the reader feel like you are there — in a drunken fight. Watching your son cut open a Lysol container in hunt of a quick high. In a canoe, headed toward an island full of feral cats and a lone, Indian in much need of a human visitor. Sitting with aging nuns in a convent where you were tortured just for being a child — especially an Indian one.

Page 248:

“Grandma got back into the room and I saw her stumble. And then she went down too. It was like a house you can’t hardly believe has stood so long, through the years of record weather, suddenly goes down in the worst yet. It makes sense, is what I’m saying, but you still can’t hardly believe it. You think a person you know has got through death and illness and being broke and living on commodity rice and will get through anything. Then they fold and you see how fragile were the stones that underpinned them. You see how instantly the ground can shift what you thought was solid. You see the stop signs and the yellow dividing markers of roads you traveled and all the instructions you had played according to vanish. You see how all the everyday things you counted on was just a dream you had been having by which you run your whole life. She had been over me, like a sheer overhang of rock dividing Lipsha Morrissey from outer space. And now she went underneath. It was as though the banks gave way on the shores of Matchimanito, and where Grandpa’s passing was just the bobber swallowed under by his biggest thought, her fall was the house and the rock under it sliding after, sending half the lake splashing up into the clouds.” 

Like half the lake splashing up into the clouds. Yes. This is what I wish I could have said at my grandmother’s funeral. My life couldn’t be more different from the characters of this book, but Erdrich has the magic touch any novelist works for: the ability to make the reader connect, against all odds.

My review is simple and unnecessary — this book is fantastic and has been lauded for ages. I enjoyed it as much today as I did a decade ago.

Driving through the desert

I haven’t fallen in love with an author quite like this since reading Kingsolver, of whom Erdrich’s writing often reminds me. If you haven’t read her stuff, I give it my highest recommendation: five out of five bananas.


{I’ve just ordered four more of her books. Have I mentioned how much I miss school? The tests. The cramming. All the books? It has also been nearly a decade since I graduated and oh, I still love learning. So I am financing — just barely — my own made up graduate level course in Louise Erdrich’s writing. Let me know if you’d like a copy of the syllabus. I grade on a curve.}