Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich, & A Discussion on Postmodernism

Reviewed by Ingrid 

Published: 1983. It was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1984.

It's about: This is Louise Erdrich's first published novel, as well as the first novel in her Native American series that follows a family group living on the Ojibwe reservation. This novel is made up of short narratives from different people jumping back and forth between the 1930s to the 1980s.  All the characters are searching for meaning, love, and healing in their lives.

Let's talk about the Postmodern elements of this novel for a second. Postmodernism is all about relativism - there is no objective truth, there is no overarching narrative. This novel is told from many different points of view and out of chronological order, which is definitely a postmodern narrative techniqe. At first it seems just like a mess of different persectives and stories. I read here that Erdrich actually follows the traditional Ojibwe story cycle, which is pretty freakin cool.

The family tree on the first few pages shows lines connecting people through traditional Ojibwe marriage, Sexual affair or liason, and Catholic marriage. There are many children resulting from any and all of these unions. We're not talking a traditional family here, and postmodernism is all about the nontraditional. One woman has 6 children all from different men. Another woman lost a child and so she takes in all kinds of unwanted children to try to make up for it. Even though all these families are very different, they've made it work for them and they love each other.

One of the main threads that connects each of the characters in this novel is a search for identity - many of the characters are full, half, or part Ojibwe. Through each of their different experiences, we see that there is no "right" way to be Ojibwe, white, or both. Each characters creates their own identity and their own way, telling their own story in their own distinct voice.

I thought: First of all, I should say that I'm not sure where I stand on this whole Postmodernism thing. Sometimes I think Moral Relativism is a legitimate stance, and sometimes I feel like it's a total copout. I want to respect everyone's own way, but at the same time it doesn't seem right not to hold everyone to some kind of moral standard. Some of Erdrich's characters do things I would consider "wrong," yet the way she writes them frames these actions as artsy, beautiful, and totally cool and ok.

Overall, though, I thought this novel was incredible, mostly because I just LOVE Erdrich's writing style. I was particularly impressed with the way that Erdrich was able to create a diferent voice for each character, while her distinct voice as a writer shines through each one. It seems like that would be very difficult to do. Check out my excerpts I've included here at the bottom for some examples of her beautiful writing.

Verdict: Stick this bad boy on the shelf.

There she is again. Via
Reading Recommendations: It might not sound like something most people would normally be interested in, but you will be stunned by Erdrich's beautiful writing and intriguing characters. Because this novel is made up of a whole bunch of little stories and events, it moves pretty quickly.

Even if you aren't the hugest fan of Postmodernism, I would recommend still giving this one a try. At the very least, it's an honest look at reservation life in the 20th century, and I think that's something that everyone should read about at some point.
Warnings: Quite a bit of sexual content.

Favorite excerpts:
Lipsha - "Behind those songs he sings out in the middle of Mass, and back of those stories that everybody knows by heart, Grandpa is thinking hard about life. I know the feeling. Sometimes I'll throw up a smokescreen to think behind. I'll hitch up to Winnepeg and play the Space Invaders for six hours, but all the time there and back I will be htinking some fairly deep thoughts that surprise even me, and I'm used to it. As for him, if it was just the thoughts, there wouldn't be no problem Smokescreen is what irritates the social structure, see, and grandpa has done things that just distract people to the point they want to throw him in the cookie jar where they keep the mentally insane. He's far from that, I know for sure, but even Grandma had trouble keeping her patience once he started sneaking off to Lamartine's place. He's not supposed to have his candy, and Lulu feeds it to him. That's one of the reasons why he goes."

Lulu - "No one ever understood my wild and secret ways. They used to say Lulu Lamertine was like a cat, loving no one, only purring to get what she wanted. But that's not true. I was in love with the whole world and all that lived in its rainy arms. Sometimes I'd look out on my yard and the green leaves would be glowing. I'd see the oil slick on the wing of a grackle. I'd hear the wind rushing, rolling, like the far-off sound of waterfalls. Then I'd open my mouth wide, my ears wide, my heart, and I'd let everything inside."
What about you - do you love Postmodernism? Do you hate it? Or, like me, are you somewhere in between?

See you tomorrow for the readathon! :)