Sometimes the books I enjoy most are the ones I have the least to say about. And what can I add to Toni Morrison’s comment that “the beauty of Love Medicine saves us from being completely devastated by its power”? Because reading this book is living, in sweetness and beauty and love, even when it tells terrible things.
It’s life and there are as may ways of looking at it as there are minds to see, but in so far as these folks have been and still are fighting for survival, not just of the individual bodies but ways of being alive together and the deathlessness of stories. It’s a fight fought ducking and rolling and with tricks of all styles, with ‘one paw tied behind my back’. Sometimes it’s fought by going with the flow, by listening to the heart or the spirit or the craving of flesh, and seeking what’s wanted. Sometimes it’s fought in humility or by letting go, sometimes by audacity and pride in the face of censure. There are losses and grief, but the dead travel with the living.
I know it’s life because Erdrich’s approach to character is to call people into being and tell their stories as they come to her. The structure here is not beginning middle end but stretched in directions of flow, wandering, straight, circuitous. Rise, fall, in, out, up, down, under and behind, around over and through, branchings and remeetings. It is a riversong, speaking all seasons and all weathers, telling melodies of snow and starlight, drought and storm. You can jump in anywhere anytime and feel the voices of Erdrich’s people, feel their loves and ties.
Erdrich and her characters deal with racism and colonisation with a wry attitude. I had to laugh as well as sigh at the ‘The Plunge of the Brave’, Nector Kashpaw’s account of the modelling and acting opportunities offered to him that inscribe ever deeper the mythology of the vanishing native. Endless facsimilies of his image dying in regalia could be exhaled into the already poisoned cultural atmosphere.
This text is allusive, rich in the symbolic, like the egg June accepts from a stranger in a bar (such openness! It speaks desperation but also the relentless will to survive and flourish somehow), or the huge baby, distilled from immense vivacity, weightless on the commercial scales. Its philosophical skein is stretched over a mystical Catholicism as well as Ojibwe culture and the hollowing horror of North American modernity in poverty. Each character-story has a place in the weave, and sees the lie of land and worldscape differently, and each has their own genius – for love, for getting money, for healing, for raising children:
Lulu was bustling about the kitchen in a calm, automatic frenzy. She seemed to fill pots wth food by pointing at them and take things from the oven that she’d never put in. The table jumped to set itself. The pop foamed into glasses, and the milk sighed to the lip. The youngest boy, crushed in a high chair, watched eagerly while things placed themselves around him. Everyone sat down. The the boys began to stuff themselves with a savage and astonishing efficiency. Before Bev had cleaned his plate once, they’d had thirds, and by the time he looked up from dessert, they had melted through the walls. The youngest had levitated from his high chair and was sleeping out of sight. The room was empty except for Lulu and himself
Even as I was reading I couldn’t wait to read this again.