Study Guide

Love Medicine Drugs and Alcohol

By Louise Erdrich

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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.

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