Study Guide

Love Medicine Quotes

  • Family

    Far from home, living in a white woman's basement, that letter made me feel buried, too. I opened the envelope and read the words. I was sitting at my linoleum table with my textbook spread out to the section "Patient Abuse." There were two ways you could think of that title. One was obvious to a nursing student, and the other was obvious to a Kashpaw. Between my mother and myself the abuse was slow and tedious, requiring long periods of dormancy, living in the blood like hepatitis. When it broke out it was almost a relief. (1.2.2)

    These are Albertine's thoughts about her relationship with her mother, Zelda. As you can see, these two ladies have issues. Zelda resents Albertine for running away from home and going to nursing school, so she neglects to tell Albertine that June is dead until a week later, since she claims she believed Albertine would be too busy to come home. Talk about classic passive aggressiveness.

    I was so mad at my mother, Zelda, that I didn't write or call for almost two months. She should have gone up the nun's hill to the convent, like she wanted, instead of having me. But she had married Swede Johnson from off-reservation, and I'd arrived premature. He'd had the grace, at least, to go AWOL from army boot camp and never let his face be seen again. (1.2.15)

    Apparently Albertine firmly believes that her mother should have just become a nun rather than having her, and that she is better off because her father had disappeared entirely. We're not exactly getting a lot of warmth from this family so far, are we?

    I'd been the one who'd really blocked my mother's plans for being pure. I'd forced her to work for money, keeping books, instead of pursuing tasks that would bring divine glory on her head. I'd caused her to live in a trailer near Grandma so that there would be someone to care for me. Later on, I'd provided her with years of grinding grief. I had gone through a long phase of wickedness and run away. Yet now that I was on the straight and narrow, things were even worse between us. (1.2.15)

    Now Albertine tells us a bit more about why her mother feels so much resentment for her. It seems that in addition to just taking up money, time, and energy that Zelda could have put toward "divine glory," Albertine ran away. Considering that Zelda clearly felt she gave up a lot, she must have resented that a good bit.

    After two months were gone and my classes were done, and although I still had not forgiven my mother, I decided to go home. I wasn't crazy about the thought of seeing her, but our relationship was like a file we sharpened on, and necessary in that way. (1.2.16)

    Apparently, Albertine was pretty good at passive aggressive warfare herself, and decided she wasn't going home or responding to her mother's super late news right away. However, she ultimately gave in to the need to see her family.

    The two aunts gave her quick, unbelieving looks. Then they were both uneasily silent, neither of them willing to take up the slack and tell the story I knew was about June. I'd heard Aurelia and my mother laughing and accusing each other of the hanging in times past, when it had been only a family story and not the private trigger of special guilts. They looked at me, wondering if I knew about the hanging, but neither would open her lips to ask. So I said I'd heard June herself tell it. (1.2.90)

    Here, once Albertine has gotten home, her mother and her Aunt Aurelia are kind of hesitant to tell the old family howler about how June had almost been hanged as part of a game they played as children. Now that June is actually dead, the women find it a lot less funny… imagine that.

    "I consider Grandma Kashpaw my mother, even though she just took me in like any old stray." (1.4.20)

    This is what Lipsha Morrissey says to Albertine when the two of them are getting drunk and staring at the stars. Albertine happens to know that June is actually Lipsha's real mother and is trying to get up the nerve to tell Lipsha, but she doesn't quite get there.

    I never wanted much, and I needed even less, but what happened was that I got everything handed to me on a plate. It came from being a Kashpaw, I used to think, our family was respected as the last hereditary leaders of this tribe. But Kashpaws died out around here, people forgot, and I still kept getting offers. (7.1.1)

    These are Nector's thoughts regarding how everything came easy to him when he was younger. Because the Kashpaws were a prominent and powerful family in the tribe, Nector thought his prestige came from that. But apparently not, since he was still a big deal even when his family wasn't anymore.

    Sometimes I escaped. I had to have relief. I went drinking and caught holy hell from Marie. After a few years the babies started walking around, but that only meant they needed shoes for their feet. I gave in. I put my nose against the wheel. I kept it there for many years and barely looked up to realize the world was going by, full of wonders and creatures, while I was getting old baling hay for white farmers. (7.1.31)

    Although Marie and his own mother seem to have believed Nector was a useless party boy, Nector describes himself as having put his "nose against the wheel" to provide for his family. And boy did he come to resent it, when he woke up one day and realized that time had passed him by…

    One day I told her I had paid her back in full by staying at her beck and call. I'd do anything for Grandma. She knew that. Besides, I took care of Grandpa like nobody else could, on account of what a handful he'd gotten to be. (13.1.1)

    These are Lipsha's thoughts here. It seems that Marie had tried to guilt him into being more helpful with his grandpa (since he had the healing touch), using her history with him to do a guilt trip, but Lipsha was only halfway taking the bait—since he knew he'd done a lot to repay his grandmother's kindness.

    I was King's half brother, see, a bastard son of June's. (16.2.12)

    Finally, Lipsha has discovered the identity of his mother (and his father, too). Up to this point, he has seemed pretty haunted by his belief that he was abandoned, so this revelation of who his parents actually were and the circumstances in which June gave him up seems to bring him some closure and peace.

  • Religion

    I was so mad at my mother, Zelda, that I didn't write or call for almost two months. She should have gone up the nun's hill to the convent, like she wanted, instead of having me. But she had married Swede Johnson from off-reservation, and I'd arrived premature. He'd had the grace, at least, to go AWOL from army boot camp and never let his face be seen again. (1.2.15)

    Both Marie and Zelda apparently thought about doing the convent thing before they started families. Marie's experience ended up going awry, of course, thanks to the wacko nun, and Zelda apparently was thwarted by maternity and "Swede."

    No reservation girl had ever prayed so hard. There was no use in trying to ignore me any longer. I was going up there on the hill with the black robe women. They were not any lighter than me. I was going up there to pray as good as they could. Because I don't have that much Indian blood. And they never thought they'd have a girl from this reservation as a saint they'd have to kneel to. But they'd have me. And I'd be carved in pure gold. With ruby lips. And my toenails would be little pink ocean shells, which they would have to stoop down off their high horse to kiss. (2.1.1)

    For Marie, being seen as equal to or as good as the nuns was pretty important. Apparently, Marie was super ashamed of having some Native American blood, and here she tries to kind of assure herself of a kind of democracy within religion/Catholicism that would help her make up for that "deficit"—after all, she could "pray as good" as the others, so she herself was just as good, right?

    I had the mail-order Catholic soul you get in a girl raised out in the bush, whose only thought is getting into town. For Sunday Mass is the only time my aunt brought us children in except for school, when we were harnessed. Our soul went cheap. We were so anxious to get there we would have walked in on our hands and knees. We just craved going to the store, slinging bottle caps in the dust, making fool eyes at each other. And of course we went to church. (2.1.4)

    Marie reflects on the origins of her enthusiasm for religion, which, before it was about proving her status/equality, was apparently just about getting to go into town and see everything—that was the big draw for her and the other children in her family.

    It was a poor convent. I didn't see that then, but I know that now. Compared to others it was humble, ragtag, out in the middle of no place. It was the end of the world for some. Where the maps stopped. Where God had only half a hand in the creation. Where the Dark One had put in thick bush, liquor, wild dogs, and Indians. (2.1.6)

    Catholicism has a weird position in the book… at times, it seems like it hasn't replaced Native American customs and religion so much as claimed its own jurisdiction within those customs. You can see that here in this quote from Marie's inner monologue, which suggests that perhaps the Catholic God hasn't been entirely responsible for everything around them at the reservation—apparently, in some people's views, Satan took over with certain things, including alcohol and "Indians."

    I was like those bush Indians who stole the holy black hat of a Jesuit and swallowed little scraps of it to cure their fevers. But the hat itself carried smallpox and was killing them with belief. Veils of faith! (2.1.8)

    Here, Marie's faith appears to be getting a shake, perhaps because she's become the victim of the crazed and delusional Sister Leopolda. There definitely seems to be an analogy between the smallpox-infested hat Marie references and Leopolda's "religion"—they both look like holy things, but they kill.

    The Pillager was living back there with the spirits. Back where the woods were logged off and brush had twisted together, impassable, she kept house and cared for Nanapush. That side of the lake belonged to her. Twice she lost it, twice she got it back. Four times she returned. Now she wore moccasins, let her braids grow long, traveled into town on foot, scorned the nuns as they scorned her, visited the priest. She made no confession, though some said Father Damien Modeste confessed his sins to her. (5.2.29)

    These are Marie's thoughts about Fleur Pillager, Lulu's mother, who helped Marie while she was giving birth. Like Lulu and Lipsha, Fleur definitely seems to be associated with Native American customs and religion (as opposed to any others that had been introduced by non-Native Americans)—as Marie says, Fleur "scorned" the nuns and, yet, "was living back there with the spirits." In other words, she does her own thing, and she doesn't kowtow to the local priest… if anything, he kowtows to her, apparently.

    But I hadn't seen her visiting the sick nor raising the sad ones up. No everyday miracles for her. Her talent was the relishment of pain, foaming at the mouth, and it was no surprise to me that lately there had been a drastic disarrangement of her mind. (8.1.3)

    Several years after her dramatic encounter with the mad nun, Marie is considering going to visit Sister Leopolda, since she had heard she was on her last legs. Marie's impression is that the nun's "religion" is still just as brutal and unchristian as it had been when she was a child.

    I sweat. I broke right into a little cold sweat at my hairline because I knew this was perfectly right and for years not one damn other person had noticed it. God's been going deaf. Since the Old Testament, God's been deafening up on us. (13.1.26)

    Here, Lipsha is reflecting on his grandfather's habit of shouting in church. Nector had explained himself as trying to make sure that God heard him, and Lipsha was really struck by the idea that God's hearing has been getting bad. Of course, given the hardships that he and many others in his family had endured, it's no wonder the thought would have occurred to him.

    Now there's your God in the Old Testament and there is Chippewa Gods as well. Indian Gods, good and bad, like tricky Nanabozho or the water monster, Missepeshu, who loves over in Matchimanito. That water monster was the last God I ever heard to appear. It had a weakness for young girls and grabbed one of the Pillagers off her rowboat. She got to shore all right, but only after this monster had its way with her. (13.1.27)

    Remember when we mentioned that the Christian and Native American gods kind of shared jurisdiction over the human race in this book? Well, that's basically what Lipsha is talking about here, as he reflects on which God or gods he's heard from lately. In his mind, the two types of gods most definitely can coexist.

    Once I gave the tribal council hell about their mortal illusions. And yet here I was making my one big mistake in life over again for the sake of illusion. What I felt for Nector was just elusive dreams but no less powerful for being false. He had no true memory or mind. I should have known that. (15.1.101)

    Although Lulu's thoughts here are more about love than religion, her musings about "mortal illusions" liken the kind of faith (and mistakes) that relationships involve to more existential issues…

  • Drugs and Alcohol

    In the throes of drunken inspiration now, he drove twice around the yard before his old Chevy chugged to a halt. (1.2.149)

    This quote refers to Gordie, who apparently was staying pretty drunk in the wake of June's death. Even when driving. This is one of many examples we get of the negative impact alcohol has on the lives of some of the characters.

    Recently a windbreak was planted before the bar "for the purposes of tornado insurance." Don't tell me that. That popular stand was put up to hide the drinkers as they get the transformation. As they are served into the beast of their burden. While they're drinking, that body comes upon them, and then they stagger or crawl out the bar door, pulling a weight they can't move past the poplars. They don't want no holy witness to their fall. (2.1.5)

    These thoughts come from Marie, who notes that the convent put up a windbreak to avoid having to look at the drunks lolling about. Definitely a depressing image—and not very Christian-sounding!

    It was the end of the world for some. Where the maps stopped. Where God had only half a hand in the creation. Where the Dark One had put in thick bush, liquor, wild dogs, and Indians. (2.1.6)

    Apparently, in the view of some, the non-Christian God took a break while the "Dark One" created certain blights in this area of the world, including liquor.

    But then the two drunk ones told me how the girl had survived—by eating pine sap in the woods. (5.1.1)

    The "two drunk ones" here are Marie's mother and June's father, who was a Morrissey (and, apparently, a drunk). As you can tell from the way she refers to them here, Marie doesn't have a ton of respect or family feeling for them…

    With each stroke of my dasher I progressed in thinking what to make of Nector. I had plans, and there was no use him trying to get out of them. I'd known from the beginning I had married a man with brains. But the brains wouldn't matter unless I kept him from the bottle. He would pour them down the drain, where his liquor went, unless I stopped the holes, wore him out, dragged him back each time he drank, and tied him to the bed with strong ropes. (5.1.27)

    Marie apparently spent a lot of her time churning butter and fretting about Nector's future and behavior. Apparently, he was a little too fond of the bottle, and she worked really hard to try to keep him from letting that fondness bring him down entirely. She was ultimately successful, but apparently it was quite the struggle.

    Drunk, he had started driving the old Northern Pacific tracks and either fallen asleep or passed out, his car straddling the rails. As he'd left the bar that night everyone who had been there remembered his words.
    "She comes barreling through, you'll never see me again."At first they had thought he was talking about Lulu. But even at the time they knew she didn't lose her temper over drinking. It was the train Henry had been talking about. They realized that later when the news came and his casket was sealed. (6.1.6-8)

    Here, the narrator is describing the unfortunate end Henry Lamartine Senior met when he decided to drive drunk on the train tracks. From his comment to his drinking buddies, it appears that the death was suicide—and that drinking heavily was probably a standard activity, given that the first interpretation of his statement was that Lulu would be mad about his alcohol use.

    Sometimes I escaped. I had to have relief. I went drinking and caught holy hell from Marie. After a few years the babies started walking around, but that only meant they needed shoes for their feet. I gave in. I put my nose against the wheel. I kept it there for many years and barely looked up to realize the world was going by, full of wonders and creatures, while I was getting old baling hay for white farmers. (7.1.31)

    Here, Nector gives us his own perspective on the drinking habits that had so worried Marie. Apparently, he had gotten himself into trouble with alcohol for a while before finally settling down to appease Marie. Of course, he believes the tradeoff of being responsible was that he totally missed out on life.

    She had seen me sitting all night by the door so he would not wander off in search of liquor. She had seen me ration him down, mixing his brandy with water, until he came clean. (8.1.75)

    Marie is describing the way she helped wean Nector off of his alcohol abuse, with her daughter watching. Apparently, the process was intense.

    Beneath her glowing heels men slouched, passing bags crimped back for bottlenecks. (9.1.13)

    When Albertine ends up in Fargo with no money and no idea what she's doing, she wanders outside the bus station to find a giant neon cat with men drinking underneath it. Apparently, the reservation isn't the only place where you find people abusing alcohol.

    Another bottle would straighten him out. (12.1.44)

    Gordie ended up with a pretty serious alcohol problem in the wake of June's death, and he went on a particularly bad bender during which he thought that he had hit June with his car (but it was a deer). He had been on his way to get that additional bottle that would "straighten him out." Right. Because the cure for alcohol is more alcohol.

  • Love

    Sometimes he used words I had to ask him the meaning of, and other times he didn't make even the simplest sense. I loved him for being both ways. A wash of love swept me over the sickness. I sat up. (1.4.14)

    Albertine is drinking with Lipsha, whom she finds both super deep and super confusing. Albertine seems to have some pretty deep feelings for Lipsha (it's not clear if her love is strictly related to their family relationship, or something more…).

    I was that girl who thought the black hem of her garment would help me rise. Veils of love which was only hate petrified by longing—that was me. (2.1.8)

    In a kind of unorthodox or nasty perspective on love, Marie suggests that love is just hate that's gotten hardened up after lots of longing. Given that she was under the nasty Sister Leopolda's wing at that point, it's not super surprising that she would see the "veils of love" as a matter of hate.

    "What's your love medicine," I asked Nanapush that evening, after I was allowed back inside. Rushes Bear had walked off, slower and more thoughtful as she moved down the hill, merely brushing the leaves out of her way. "She hates you but you drive her crazy." (4.1.13)

    Lulu asked her uncle Nanapush how he managed to have such a frisky love life with Rushes Bear, even though they fought all the time. To her, these two things seemed totally irreconcilable—she thought magic or "love medicine" had to be involved. However, Nanapush denied the charge, saying that he simply put a lot of, er, time into that frisky element in their relationship.

    I needed my mother the more I became like her—a Pillager kind of woman with a sudden body, fierce outright wishes, a surprising heart. I needed her when Rushes Bear's son, Nector Kashpaw, started looking at me with an insisting glance. I could have had him if I'd jumped. I don't jump for men, but I was thinking of maybe stepping high, when Nanapush came into the house and told me I should forget Nector Kashpaw. (4.1.20)

    Here, we get Lulu's reflections on her relationship with Nector Kashpaw, which ended when Nector suddenly decided he was going to go off with Marie. Lulu doesn't really express any kind of intense feelings for Nector, but he certainly seemed to have them for her.

    It hits me, anyway. Them geese, they mate for life. And I think to myself, just what if I went out and got a pair? And just what if I fed some part—say the goose heart—of the female to Grandma and Grandpa ate the other heart? Wouldn't that work? Maybe it's all invisible, and then maybe again it's magic. Love is a stony road. (13.1.58)

    Late in the novel, Lipsha Morrissey tries to figure out a way to help his grandmother work some "love medicine" on Nector, who is still apparently chasing after Lulu (despite being barely able to remember who anyone is). As you can see, Lipsha's come up with a pretty elaborate scheme involving the organs of some local geese. Of course, it's ironic that he picks two geese, since that's what Nector was carrying when he met Marie.

    I told myself love medicine was simple. I told myself the old superstitions was just that—strange beliefs. (13.1.68)

    Although Lipsha was initially a little skittish about using love medicine with his grandparents, he talked himself into it, thinking that it wouldn't be dangerous. Unfortunately, that didn't really turn out to be the case.

    So I told her. "Well, the truth is," I said, "it's a kind of medicine."

    "For what?"

    "Love." (13.1.101-103)

    Here, Lipsha is talking to Sister Mary, trying to get the hearts of two supermarket turkeys blessed so he can use it in his "love medicine" with his grandparents. However, he doesn't come out with the full details of what he's asking right away, so Sister Mary thinks he's asking for help with his own love life. Ha!

    "Love medicine ain't what brings him back to you, Grandma. No, it's something else. He loved you over time and distance, but he went off so quick he never got the chance to tell you how he loves you, how he doesn't blame you, how he understands. It's true feeling, not no magic. No supermarket heart could have brung him back." (13.1.157).

    Unfortunately, Lipsha's "love medicine" went wrong when Marie got irritated at Nector's refusal to swallow the turkey heart and smacked him on the back, causing him to choke. After Nector's death, Marie claimed that Nector had come back to visit her.

    It's a sad world, though, when you can't get love right even after trying it as many times as I have. (15.1.11)

    Lulu Lamartine refuses to apologize for her love of men, but here she is being just a little self-deprecating here about the fact that her love life, while busy, hasn't been entirely successful.

    It went on for five years like that, until well after my youngest boy was born. Half Kashpaw. No wonder Lyman had money sense. Perhaps it would have gone like that for countless years more. I didn't want more than I could get, I was pretty well content. But then the politician showed his true stripe, a lily-white, and the love knot we had welded between us unbent. (15.1.27)

    Lulu and Nector ended up having an affair for five years, but it ended when he was forced, through his role with the tribe, to deliver papers kicking Lulu off her property. Yep, we'd say kicking your partner off her property would definitely put a damper on a love affair.

  • War

    I was so mad at my mother, Zelda that I didn't write or call for almost two months. She should have gone up the nun's hill to the convent, like she wanted, instead of having me. But she had married Swede Johnson from off-reservation, and I'd arrived premature. He'd had the grace, at least, to go AWOL from army boot camp and never let his face be seen again. (1.2.15)

    Soldiers are actually all over this novel, now that we think about it. In this early reference, Albertine casually drops that her father was a soldier in an unnamed conflict (and a deserter, apparently).

    She started after him. Party because she didn't know what she was looking for, partly because he was a soldier like her father, and partly because he could have been an Indian, she followed. (9.1.12)

    When Albertine runs away to Fargo, she ends up at the bus station with no money and no idea where to go. For a lifeline, she latches on to a dude she sees walking by who looks like a soldier. Although Albertine didn't really have a relationship with her dad, she decides that the fact that he and her pops shared a profession is reason enough to trust him.

    She was tall, strong, twice the size of most Vietnamese. It had been a long time since he'd seen any Indian women, even a breed. He had been a soldier, was now a veteran, had seen nine months of combat in the Annamese Cordillera before the NVA captured him somewhere near Pleiku. They kept him half a year. He was released after an honorable peace was not achieved, after the evacuation. (9.1.18)

    Now the third-person narrator slips over to the soldier's perspective, and we learn that he was in Vietnam and had been captured. Also, we get a wry comment about the Vietnam conflict overall, in which "an honorable peace was not achieved."

    On the tiny square of floor, still dressed, the bundle she had carried opened and spread all around her, she crouched low.
    And he saw her as the woman back there.
    How the hell could you figure them?
    She looked at him. They had used a bayonet. She was out of her mind. You, me, same. Same. She pointed to her eyes and his eyes. The Asian, folded eyes of some Chippewas. She was hemorrhaging.
    Question her.
    Sir, she is dying, sir.
    "And anyway, what could I have asked? Huh? What the hell?"
    Albertine was looking at him, staring at him. He realized he had spoken out loud. (9.1.60-67)

    Albertine and the soldier (who turns out to be Henry Lamartine Junior) end up in a hotel together. Because Henry seems to be suffering from PTSD, he suddenly starts confusing Albertine with an injured woman he'd encountered back in Vietnam. He even starts talking to her as though she were the woman, which shows just how powerful those flashbacks are.

    Near dawn, Albertine could not remember where she was. She could not remember about the dull ache between her legs. She turned to the man and made the mistake of touching him in his sleep. His name came back to her. She was about to say his name.
    He shrieked. Exploded. (9.1.96-97)

    In the morning, Albertine makes the mistake of trying to touch Henry when he's sleeping. Again, probably because of PTSD, he does not react well to being surprised in his sleep and wakes up screaming.

    The one who went wild on me was unexpected. That was Henry Junior. All his life he did things right, and then the war showed him right was wrong. Something broke in him. His mind gave way. He was past all touch when he returned. I would catch his gaze sometimes and think I recognized it from somewhere. One day I knew. He had the same dead wide stare as the man in my playhouse. (15.1.70)

    Now that Henry Junior is gone (apparently as a result of suicide), Lulu reflects on what went wrong. In her opinion, the war had somehow flipped everything upside down for Henry, making right into wrong and vice versa.

    "… I was in Nam."
    "He never got off the West Coast." Lynette leaned back to me with a bleary confiding look. Not that she'd been drinking. She seemed punch-addled or half asleep. "We listen to him anyway." She winked. "How he does blab on." (16.2.4-5)

    King Kashpaw also claims that he went to Vietnam, but according to Lynette, he never left the West Coast of the U.S. Whatever his actual wartime experience, he certainly acts as though he knows a lot.

    I happened to take a close look around me at one point, and then I realized something. I realized that if I went in the army, and then if I got lucky enough to come out, I would be a veteran like these guys—gumming the stubble on their chins, dreaming of long-hocked medals, curling up around their secret war wounds to comfort a lonesome night. Not much in that, less than nothing. (16.2.70)

    In a moment of impulsivity, Lipsha joined the military… and immediately regretted that choice. He regrets it even more when he gets a good look at the veterans surrounding him, who are clearly in financial trouble (hence the hocked medals) and have only wounds and stubble for company—and that's the good outcome (i.e., what Lipsha gets if he came back alive). So, Lipsha is already trying to think of ways to get out of his service.

    An old Sioux vet who said he was at Iwo Jima with Ira Hayes passed me a bagged flask of whiskey underneath the sign PLEASE DON'T DRINK HERE. THIS IS YOUR LOBBY. I took a long pull, slugged it down. Then I started crying. That is, tears came out. I made no sound. (16.2.76)

    Apparently, the vets Lipsha is hanging out with are also into alcohol, drinking on the down low in public. As you can see from the tears, Lipsha is getting increasingly tweaky in the wake of his decision to join the military.

    "Like I was telling you, I was in the Marines. You can't run from them bastards, man. They'll get you every time. I was in Nam." (16.2.134)

    Despite Lynette's claim that King wasn't in "Nam," King is all in on saying the opposite. Here, he's trying to give advice to Lipsha about whether he can dodge the draft.

  • Abuse

    Far from home, living in a white woman's basement, that letter made me feel buried, too. I opened the envelope and read the words. I was sitting at my linoleum table with my textbook spread out to the section 'Patient Abuse.' There were two ways you could think of that title. One was obvious to a nursing student, and the other was obvious to a Kashpaw. Between my mother and myself the abuse was slow and tedious, requiring long periods of dormancy, living in the blood like hepatitis. When it broke out it was almost a relief. (1.2.2)

    Albertine and her mother, Zelda, don't seem to have the healthiest of relationships. Case in point: Zelda decided not to tell Albertine right away that June had died, arguing that she just thought Albertine would have been too busy to come home. Of course, that doesn't take a genius to decode: the implication is that Albertine acts too busy and important for her family, in Zelda's opinion. But since Zelda keeps things nice and passive aggressive, the "abuse" that she and Albertine heap on each other is "slow and tedious" rather than violent or direct.

    Lynette's face, stained and swollen, bloomed over the wheel. She was a dirty blond, with little patches of hair that were bleached and torn. (1.2.58)

    Unfortunately, there's more than psychological warfare and abuse going on in the novel—there's actual physical abuse as well. This is our first introduction to Lynette, whose husband, King, hits her routinely. In fact, soon after this moment, she gets attacked again.

    And even now, King was saying something to Lynette that had such an odd dreaming ring to it I almost heard it spoken out in June's voice. June had said, "He used the flat of his hand. He hit me good." And now I heard her son say, "…flat of my hand… but good…" Lynette rolled out the door, shedding cloth and pins, packing the bare-bottomed child on her hip, and I couldn't tell what had happened. (1.2.61-63)

    Apparently, the Kashpaw family is no collective stranger to physical abuse. As Albertine watches King threaten and then ultimately assault Lynette, she gets flashbacks to June talking about an unnamed person (likely her husband, Gordie) beating her.

    The two aunts gave her quick, unbelieving looks. Then they were both uneasily silent, neither of them willing to take up the slack and tell the story I knew was about June. I'd heard Aurelia and my mother laughing and accusing each other of the hanging in times past, when it had been only a family story and not the private trigger of special guilts. They looked at me, wondering if I knew about the hanging, but neither would open her lips to ask. So I said I'd heard June herself tell it. (1.2.90)

    Now that June has passed, Aurelia and Zelda don't find the story of how they almost killed June as children super funny… however, it doesn't sound like it was a terribly funny story to begin with. The Kashpaw children seemed to have abused June freely, and she just put up with it—in fact, in this case, she welcomed it. She'd already had a pretty rough life, so perhaps that's why she didn't feel equipped to battle with her siblings.

    I stumbled straight into the lighted kitchen and saw at once that King was trying to drown Lynette. He was pushing her face in the sink of cold dishwater. Holding her by the nape and ears. Her arms were whirling, knocking spoons and knives and bowls out of the drainer. She struggled powerfully, but he had her. I grabbed a block of birch out of the woodbox and hit King on the back of the neck. The wood bounced out of my fists. He pushed her lower, and her throat caught and gurgled. (1.4.36)

    Albertine wakes up from her overnight drinking fest with Lipsha to realize that Lynette and King are fighting, and she finds King trying to drown Lynette in the sink. After she breaks up the incident, Lynette and King somehow make up and take the car just a few feet from the house so they can have sex.

    "I will boil him from your mind if you make a peep… by filling your ear." (2.1.60)

    Man, there really are a huge number of examples of abuse in this book—and different kinds of abuse, too. In addition to family disputes involving psychological and physical abuse, here we just get pure sadism.

    Okay, Sister Leopolda genuinely seems to believe that she would be helping Marie by boiling the devil from her mind, but it's pretty clear that she's just crazy and makes religion all about pain, suffering, and abuse.

    That was when she stabbed me through the hand with the fork, then took the poker up alongside my head, and knocked me out. (2.1.99)

    As if pouring boiling water on Marie wasn't enough, when Marie decided to fight back against Sister Leopolda, that sadistic nun stabbed Marie through the hand. Then, she passed the resulting wound off to her fellow sisters as stigmata. How's that for some smooth talking and quick thinking? Too bad she didn't put that to, you know, non-evil uses.

    A neighbor had come by and hit the door with a broom handle. Their voices went down after that. (16.1.17)

    Toward the end of the book, we get a third-person chapter devoted to following Howard Kashpaw's thoughts and perceptions. Apparently, his parents made so much noise with their fighting that the neighbor had to bang on their door to try to get them to stop.

    "… I was in Nam." "He never got off the West Coast." Lynette leaned back to me with a bleary confiding look. Not that she'd been drinking. She seemed punch-addled or half asleep. "We listen to him anyway." She winked. "How he does blab on." (16.2.4-5)

    Apparently King and Lynette are still deep in the cycle of abuse, with Lynette seeming punch-addled as she talks to Lipsha about her husband. As you might imagine, Lynette doesn't have a ton of respect for her husband, and it shows here.

    He had pulled Grandma's leg once too far. Her goat was got. She was so mad she hopped up quick as a wink and slugged him between the shoulder blades to make him swallow. (13.1.124)

    Lipsha's attempt to work some "love medicine" on his grandparents goes horribly awry when his grandmother gets so frustrated with Nector's joking around that she slugs him on the back… which causes him to choke. And die. Although accidental, this violence has some big consequences.

  • Death

    Far from home, living in a white woman's basement, that letter made me feel buried, too. I opened the envelope and read the words. (1.2.2)

    These are Albertine's reflections about the moment she learned that her Aunt June had died. Her grief is so intense that she feels buried herself.

    "My boots are filling," he says. He says this in a normal voice, like he just noticed and he doesn't know what to think of it. Then he's gone. A branch comes by. Another branch. And I go in. (10.1.68-69)

    This is Lyman Lamartine's description of the moment his brother Henry drowned. Henry had jumped in the river and never reemerged. It's left ambiguous whether it was a suicide, but it certainly appears that his act was self-destructive…

    But here's the factor of decision: he wasn't choking on the heart alone. There was more to it than that. It was other things that choked him as well. It didn't seem like he wanted to struggle or fight. Death came and tapped his chest, so he went just like that. (13.1.126)

    Lipsha is reflecting here on Nector's death. In his view, it wasn't just that Nector had the bad luck to choke on a turkey heart (with some help from Marie's wallop, of course)—he believes that Nector was probably so overloaded or "choked" with other stuff that he just didn't fight super hard when death came for him.

    I got to thinking. What if some gravediggers dug up Wristwatch's casket in two hundred years and that watch was still going? I thought what question they would ask and it was this: Whose hand wound it? (13.1.63)

    In this snippet, Lipsha is thinking about a Lamartine cousin known as "Wristwatch," who had died wearing his father's old watch. Even though the thing had never worked, Wristwatch had worn it faithfully his whole life. Strangely, when he died, people noticed that the watch had suddenly started keeping perfect time. When they buried him with it, it was still ticking. As you can see from this and other moments (for example, all the talk of "love medicine"), Lipsha is totally willing to admit the supernatural into his everyday life and give it a role in how he thinks about people.

    Nobody knows this. When I was seven, I found the body of a dead man in the woods. I used to go out there and sweep my secret playhouse, clean my broken pots with leaves, tend to my garden of rocks and feathers. (15.1.15)

    When Lulu was younger, she apparently found a corpse near her playhouse. She didn't tell anyone about it, as she basically says here, but she was totally fascinated by him and even poked around on his body a little bit to check things out.

    He had been staring into it. I mean the dark bowl of his little brown cap. And now he stared into an endless ceiling of sky and leaves. I knew how wrong it was. My body slacked before my mind made up the right words to describe him. Death was something I had never come upon until then, but let me tell you, I knew it when I saw it. Death was him. (15.1.17)

    Even though Lulu's childhood memories don't really advance the plot too much, they do highlight how big a theme death is in the novel. The young Lulu had never confronted death, and here she was with a corpse right in front of her playhouse. It sounds like it was a bit of a shock, prompting Lulu to be pretty reflective about death and its meaning.

    Well, Nector's long face went longer. His eyes went blacker. And what I saw in their hate pits made me cross my breast before I turned away. A love so strong brews the same strength of hate. "I'll kill him," the eyes said. "Or else I'll kill you." (15.1.39)

    Here, Lulu remembers when Nector heard that Lulu was going to marry Beverly Lamartine. Apparently, Lulu felt that both she and Beverly were in mortal danger at that point—Nector was that angry.

    The one who went wild on me was unexpected. That was Henry Junior. All his life he did things right, and then the war showed him right was wrong. Something broke in him. His mind gave way. He was past all touch when he returned. I would catch his gaze sometimes and think I recognized it from somewhere. One day I knew. He had the same dead wide stare as the man in my playhouse. (15.1.70)

    Lulu is comparing Henry Junior's expression after coming back from the war to the face of the man that she had found dead outside her playhouse. Definitely not a flattering comparison, right? Unfortunately, not so long after Lulu had that thought, Henry literally became a corpse when he committed suicide.

    Nothing ever hurt me like the day Lyman walked into my trailer with mud in his hair. The worst thing was, every time I think back, that Henry Junior died by drowning. I could not get it from my head. Moses told me, when we were on the closest terms, how drowning was the worst death for a Chippewa to experience. By all accounts, the drowned weren't allowed into the next life but forced to wander forever, broken shoed, cold, sore, and ragged. There was no place for the drowned in heaven or anywhere on earth. That is what I never found it easy to forget, and that is also the reason I broke custom very often and spoke Henry Junior's name, out loud, on my tongue. (15.1.112)

    And here we get Lulu's thoughts on when she heard that Henry had died. Because he drowned, she remains worried that Henry Junior was not allowed to rest. So, even though it is taboo to speak the names of the dead, she decided to speak to him; she wanted to let him know, if he was still around somewhere, that he still had a home.

    She did not mention Nector's funeral. We did not talk about Nector. He was already there. Too much might start the floodgates flowing and our moment would be lost. It was enough just to sit there without words. We mourned him the same way together. That was the point. It was enough. (15.1.132)

    After Nector's death, Lulu and Marie became friends, which actually helped both women mourn him. At least something good came out of that mess of adultery and failed love spells, right?

  • Race

    No reservation girl had ever prayed so hard. There was no use in trying to ignore me any longer. I was going up there on the hill with the black robe women. They were not any lighter than me. I was going up there to pray as good as they could. Because I don't have that much Indian blood. And they never thought they'd have a girl from this reservation as a saint they'd have to kneel to. But they'd have me. And I'd be carved in pure gold. With ruby lips. And my toenails would be little pink ocean shells, which they would have to stoop down off their high horse to kiss. (2.1.1)

    Apparently, Marie Lazarre has a little bit of a complex about her "Indian blood," assuring the reader that she doesn't "have that much." In fact, she's so ashamed of that aspect of her background that she flat out denies that she has Native American blood, according to Lipsha Morrissey.

    I could not believe it, later, when she showed me the picture. Plunge of the Brave, was the title of it. Later on, that picture would become famous. It would hang in the Bismarck state capitol. There I was, jumping off a cliff, naked of course, down into a rocky river. Certain death. Remember Custer's saying? The only good Indian is a dead Indian? Well, from my dealings with whites I would add to that quote: "The only interesting Indian is dead, or dying by falling backwards off a horse." (7.1.15)

    Unfortunately, Nector became all too familiar with some of the weird stereotypes non-Native Americans had about Native Americans. For some reason, he discovered, they loved representing and/or seeing Native Americans as dead or dying. For example, he was invited to play the "lead" Native American role in a movie, but it turned out that role consisted only of dying. Then, a woman asked him to pose for a painting, and he grudgingly agreed—and the painter turned his pose into a painting of him jumping off a cliff. Nector was not pleased.

    Sometimes I escaped. I had to have relief. I went drinking and caught holy hell from Marie. After a few years the babies started walking around, but that only meant they needed shoes for their feet. I gave in. I put my nose against the wheel. I kept it there for many years and barely looked up to realize the world was going by, full of wonders and creatures, while I was getting old baling hay for white farmers. (7.1.31)

    This quote, with its "blink and you miss it" reference to how Nector was crushing his soul working for white farmers, actually suggests that there were tensions between Native Americans and the "white" Americans who held the purse strings.

    She started after him. Party because she didn't know what she was looking for, partly because he was a soldier like her father, and partly because he could have been an Indian, she followed. (9.1.12).

    When Albertine ends up in Fargo after running away, she finds comfort in finding a familiar face—that is, one that is potentially Native American.

    She was tall, strong, twice the size of most Vietnamese. It had been a long time since he'd seen any Indian women, even a breed. He had been a soldier, was now a veteran, had seen nine months of combat in the Annamese Cordillera before the NVA captured him somewhere near Pleiku. They kept him half a year. He was released after an honorable peace was not achieved, after the evacuation. (9.1.18)

    Henry Junior, too, is intrigued by Albertine because she appears to be Native American. He's already comparing her to the Vietnamese people he'd seen during his war service, which is important to remember for later in the chapter…

    She looked at him. They had used a bayonet. She was out of her mind. You, me, same. Same. She pointed to her eyes and his eyes. The Asian, folded eyes of some Chippewas. She was hemorrhaging. (9.1.63)

    When Henry Junior takes Albertine to a hotel, he starts to have flashbacks to his wartime experience. During this incident, he remembers a woman over there who had compared her eyes to his, suggesting that they were similar while begging Henry to show mercy and help her out. We're guessing the strategy didn't work.

    Although she will not admit she has a scrap of Indian blood in her, there's no doubt in my mind she's got some Chippewa. (13.1.46)

    Lipsha here reflects on the fact that Marie absolutely refuses to admit that she has Native American blood.

    I never let the United States census in my door, even though they say it's good for Indians. Well, quote me. I say that every time they counted us they knew the precise number to get rid of. (15.1.28)

    Lulu offers some biting commentary here on the United States government's treatment of Native Americans. Her perspective on census representation kind of matches Nector's view of the artistic representations of Native Americans: she believes that the government only wants to "represent" these individuals in order to kill them.

    If we're going to measure land, let's measure right. Every foot and inch you're standing on, even if it's on top of the highest skyscraper, belongs to the Indians. That's the real truth of the matter. (15.1.29)

    Continuing with her thoughts on the U.S. government's attitude toward Native Americans, Lulu announces that, if we're going to start doing accounting, everything really belongs to her people. We're going to guess the U.S. government doesn't want to hear that, however.

    "I'm gonna rise," he said. "One day I'm gonna rise. They can't keep down the Indians. Right on brother, huh?" (16.2.125)

    Trying to express some pride in himself and his people, King announces to Lipsha that he's going to rise. As part of his breast beating, he cites his race, claiming, "They can't keep down the Indians." Apparently, he seems himself as part of a larger struggle between his people and an unnamed "they."