Study Guide

Love Medicine Introduction

By Louise Erdrich

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Love Medicine Introduction

Hey, if nothing else, the title definitely grabs you—who couldn't use some "Love Medicine"? Healthier love is better, right?

"But wait," you might be asking, "What does "love medicine" actually mean? What kind of book am I signing up for? Should I put brown paper around it when I read it in public? Will my friends think that I have a secret crush and am planning to use witchcraft to amp up my seduction? Is this a How-To manual for elderly would-be Romeos?"

We should warn you that if you're picking up Louise Erdrich's 1984 novel for romance, you've dialed the wrong number. Sure, there's actually quite a lot of lovin', baby makin', and marryin' going on, but with all that comes a lot of heartache. And then there's the whole backdrop of economic depression and cultural destruction/exploitation that the characters have to deal with.

So, if you like thinking about family drama, substance abuse, and the long-lasting impact of the U.S.'s policies towards Native Americans, this is definitely the book for you… but if you're looking for the next Fifty Shades, keep browsing.

Louise Erdrich has written a lot of fiction about Native Americans, their history, and their traditions. But Love Medicine was not only the first of her novels to pick up this theme—it was also her first novel, period. And it won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, which is not too shabby.

And Erdrich didn't stop collecting awards… she later won the National Book Award and the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. Yeah, she's a major player on the contemporary literature scene… and it all began with Love Medicine.

What is Love Medicine About and Why Should I Care?

It's a twofer, Shmoopers. Instead of giving you one reason you should care, we're going to give you two of 'em.

First of all, we'll look at why you should care through a zoom lens. This is the micro reason for caring:

If you've ever banged your head against the wall wondering what your various family members are thinking or why they act the way they do, you might find this book pretty satisfying, because the Kashpaw family is always embroiled in some major headdesk-inspiring shenanigans.

Love Medicine weaves in and out of characters' minds from chapter to chapter to provide a birds-eye view of all the issues swirling around the North Dakota reservation where (most of) the action takes place.

As a result, you get the kind insight on these families that you might have always wanted for your own. For example, you might wonder, "Why is my mother always so sharp with my auntie?" or (less likely, TBH) "Why is my sister terrified of nuns?" Love Medicine gives you answers to those kinds of questions, taking you deep into the past and the family traumas that are at the heart present-day family dynamics.

And now we'll tell you why you should care on a macro-scale. Here's our panoramic take:

The struggles that the characters in Love Medicine take on have a bit to do with family trauma and drama, but they also have a bit to do with being specifically Native American.

Whether you know about Native Americans based mostly on Thanksgiving-style portraits of Europeans and Native Americans existing in harmony, or recall incidents like The Trail of Tears or The Battle of Little Big Horn, chances are your knowledge of Native American history is just that… dusty pages from seemingly ancient history.

It's probably easier to talk about Native Americans as if Native Americans faded into the past alongside Wild West gunslingers… instead of the reality, which is that past persecution has lingering and lasting effects. Just to cite the most neon-lit blazing example of this, just check out the fact that Love Medicine takes place in North Dakota, on an Ojibwe reservation.

All fine and good, right? Except for the fact that the Ojibwe originally lived in the (way more easily inhabitable) areas around Lake Superior until ethnic cleansing during the 1800s moved the Ojibwe further west.

Are you furious yet? Yeah, we are too. And so are many of the characters in Love Medicine. This sense of anger displacement is one of the foundational emotions in Erdrich's novel—and the catalyst for a lot of the plot action.

Love Medicine Resources


The Big Read Thinks Love Medicine Is Big Fun
You can find extras on Love Medicine by clicking here…

Articles and Interviews

Salon Gets Deep With Erdrich
Salon's Robert Spillman interviews Erdrich about her craft and aspects of her personal history that figure in her work.

Sign of The New York Times
The New York Times's review of Love Medicine.

Author Admiration
Amy Tan reacts to reading Love Medicine as she prepared to write The Joy Luck Club.


Love on Video
Harper Academic digs deep into the first page of Love Medicine—and argues that June is actually the protagonist of the book, not Marie.


Check out Louise Erdrich's interview with NPR promoting her latest novel, The Round House.


Put A Face With The Name
Check out a picture of Erdrich from the University of Illinois Web site.

Caricature Is The Sincerest Form of Flattery?
As caricatures go, this one of Erdrich from The Kenyon Review is actually pretty cool.

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