Study Guide

Love Medicine Death

By Louise Erdrich

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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?

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