Thursday, August 07, 2008

A Hit and A Miss

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

Spanning over fifty years, and narrated from the perspective of a variety of characters, Love Medicine tells the story of life on a reservation in North Dakota. It mainly focuses on the Kapshaw family and Lulu Nanapush and her offspring. I really enjoyed the women in this novel. They were complex, three dimensional and strong, while the men often seemed weak and useless in comparison. It is the women that held the families together while some of the men were selling away their dignity and birth rights. As a result, there were a few chapters I couldn't wait to get through while I savored others based on who was narrating. My favorites were Lulu Nanapush and Marie Lazarre, while I didn't really care for Lipsha Morrisey's chapters too much, and was rather indifferent to Lyman Lamartine. Overall, it was very good, and I enjoyed the interweaving characters and ever-evolving relationships.

The Beet Queen by Louise Erdrich

I was kind of disappointed by this novel. After reading Love Medicine, I had high expectation of this author, and this book just didn't do it for me. Like in her previous novel, it is very beautifully written, her characters are well developed and complicated, but none of them were that likable. As a result, it was hard to get into the book because everyone was slightly obnoxious and on the depressing side. It started off strong. In the beginning, Mary Adare seemed like a good character, but as the novel progresses, she becomes stranger, more isolated and depressing. She has a hard time making connections, and for the most part, she seems to have resigned herself to this. Celeste, while more likable, similarly has isolated herself and restricted her life to only a few people. I didn't like Karl from the very beginning since he was too needy and used people. Mary's cousin, Sita, reminded me of Nell from Little House on the Prairie when she was first introduced. She remains rather superficial her entire life, and also suffers from mental health problems. The only likable character was Wallace Pfef, a closeted homosexual, who is in love with Karl, and along with Mary, helps Celeste raise her daughter Dot, an incredibly angry, spoiled, ungrateful brat of a child (who has small appearance in Love Medicine). In an interview in the back of the novel, Erdrich describes Dot as her alter-ego who symoblizes all the anger Erdrich herself felt as a teen but never expressed. In and of itself, an angry character wouldn't be bad but Dot has no redeeming qualities. Her mother, her aunt and Wallace all feel an incredible amount of love for her, but she just keeps acting out.

Unlike Love Medicine, this novel takes place in the town Argus, rather than the reservation. However, a few characters from Love Medicine make brief appearances, such as Fleur, Eli and Sister Leopolda. My professor, who recommended Erdrich to me, actually compared her to Faulkner since Erdrich's novels all take place in the same general community and certain people keep popping up as supporting characters. I like the way they all interweave, actually.

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