Erdrich puts a family tree right smack at the front of the book, so you get a sense right off the bat that family is going to be pretty important to everything that happens… plus, the relationships can get a bit confusing—so trust us, that tree will be handy. Characters are wounded by a lot of stuff in the book—cash flow problems, crazy nuns, and war spring to mind—but nothing seems to cause as many problems as family.
That's kind of a sad thing to say, since your relatives are supposed to be a support system (and there's some of that too in Love Medicine, of course), but it's true—there are a ton of characters with family drama that weighs them down or haunts them. Don't fret, though—there are also some great moments where people manage to find peace in their own screwy family situation; in fact, that's how the book ends up with a happy ending.
Questions About Family
Why do you think Lipsha seems a lot happier after he realizes that Gerry and June were his biological parents? What does that knowledge do for his life?
Why do you think Marie was never really able to get through to June?
What do you make of the book's overall slant on family? Is it important and helpful for the characters, crucial to forming their identities, or something to be escaped? Or both?
There are a lot of examples of people (e.g., June and Lipsha) being raised by people who aren't their biological parents. What do those examples do for your overall reading of family in the book? We start out with a family tree emphasizing blood ties (for the most part), and then a lot of family relationships end up not being about blood—what do you make of that?
Chew on This
Family is most definitely something to be escaped in the novel—just look at Albertine, who has such a poisonous relationship with her mom that she ran away. Escape is the key to dealing with family for sure, as far as this novel is concerned.
Sure, family is complicated, but coming to terms with all the relationships and figuring out your origins is the single most important aspect of identity, according to this novel.