Love Medicine: Week Two

Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky
October 7, 2009
Comments 16

Yeah, those damn geese. Nector Kashpaw never stood a chance. When he meets Marie, he’s on his way to see Lulu, his mind transfixed by desire:

I think of her little wet tongue and I have to stop then and there, in my tracks, at the taste that floods into my mouth. She is a tart berry full of juice, and I know she is mine. I cannot wait for the night to start. She will be waiting in the bush.

In fact, Nector’s saving up for a “French-style wedding band” that he plans to slip onto Lulu’s finger. (God help him.) That’s why he stops Marie in the first place. He sees the monogrammed pillowcase wrapped around her hand, injured in her battle with the sadistic Sister Leopolda during her brief stay at the convent, and thinks that she’s stolen it. Maybe the nuns will give him a reward, and he can get that ring onto Lulu’s finger before she slips away from him. He’s thinking about Lulu when he grabs Marie’s wrist, which I think we can agree is probably a bad way to start a marriage.

So how does he end up with this “skinny white girl,” this “dirty Lazarre”? Even after it happens, he can’t really say.

We sit alone. The sun falls down the side of the world and the hill goes dark. Her hand grows thick and fevered, heavy in my own, and I don’t want her, but I want her, and I cannot let go.

Like David, I find this scene really funny, especially the way that those geese tied to his wrists keep seizing control of the action. When Nector pins Marie to the ground, there are the geese, flapping wildly around them:

The geese are to my advantage now; their weight on my arms helps pin her; their dead wings flap around us; their necks loll, and their black eyes stare, frozen. But Marie is not the kind of girl to act frightened of a few dead geese.

It’s almost as if we’ve wandered into “Leda and the Swan,” only it’s the man who gets caught up, laid in that white rush, and so mastered by the brute blood. Dead, the geese keep pulling him down onto Marie, but his heart will always keep flying away toward Lulu.

Later, in the section entitled “Love Medicine,” Nector’s grandson, Lipsha Morrisey, will try to solve the love triangle that begins when Nector runs into Marie Lazarre while carrying those geese into town. Geese, Lipsha realizes, mate for life, so all he has to do is get some goose hearts and feed one to Nector and the other to Marie. Only Lipsha is a terrible shot, so when he goes hunting for a pair of geese, he misses, then ends up going to the grocery store to buy a pair of frozen turkey hearts. Needless to say, his love medicine goes disastrously wrong, but this strange moment of tragicomedy reveals one of the ways that Erdrich has laced this book of stories together into a single narrative.

In his last post, David quoted the passage describing Nanapush’s love medicine in the section entitled “The Island,” where he notes that his secret is making love on Indian time, paying no attention to the clocks that rule the lives of the boys who went off to white school. (Nector is one of those boys, of course, so he’s taken by surprise when those geese drag him off the road that leads toward Lulu and leave him panting in Marie’s arms. But his soul is too divided for his heart ever to be content with one woman, as we’ll see in later sections.) In a sense, that passage could also serve as a metaphor for Erdrich’s narrative style. She’s in no hurry to make these connections, allowing her reader to feel what it’s like to “go on Indian time,” instead of driving her narrative toward its conclusion as we’ve come to expect from most novels.

So the book turns away, leaps across 14 years to show us what Marie and Nector have become by 1948, when June Morrisey first appears at their door, orphaned when her mother died out in the woods, leaving her to survive by eating pine sap. Marie is frightened by how strongly she feels for this child and the wildness within her. She raises her with the same fierce determination that she brings to keeping Nector away from liquor until she can make him into a leader on the reservation. But in both cases, the wildness within them is too powerful to be controlled: June runs off to live with her Uncle Eli in the woods, while Nector slowly drifts away into gambling and his renewed affair with Lulu. In both “Beads” and the next chapter, “Lulu’s Boys,” which picks up the story again in 1957, we find these two strong-willed women struggling to hold their worlds together in houses crowded with children as men come and go. But their characters could not be more different. Marie speaks out of her growing silence:

I went down beneath his hands and lay quiet. I rolled with his current like a stone in the lake. He fell on my like a wave. But like a wave he washed away, leaving no sign he’d been there. I was smooth as before. I slept hard, and when I woke he was gone.

All day with the children, I felt a low grief I couldn’t name yet. Something inside me had shrunk and hardened in the deep.

Lulu admits nothing but desire. In the chapter entitled “Lulu’s Boys,” the first section since that opening description of June’s death not to be narrated in the first person, she appears ??? as she does through most of the book ??? as the object of male desire. The chapter opens on “the last day that Lulu Lamartine spent as Henry’s widow,” a phrase that indicates how desire both defines her and leaves her fundamentally unchanged. Her third husband, Henry Lamartine, died at a railroad crossing in an event that is defined at different times in the book as accident, fate, and suicide (over her affair with Nector Kashpaw). Seven years later, Henry’s brother has returned to claim the son he’d fathered while the earth still settled in Henry’s grave. Imagining the scene before his return, he’s tried to think of Lulu only as the boy’s mother:

He habitually blotted away her face and body, so that in his thoughts she was a doll of flour sacking with a curly black mop on her head. She was simply glad that he had come at last to take the son she had trouble providing for off her hands.

But as these men learn, neither Lulu nor Marie can be so easily relegated to their roles as wives and mothers. Their power lies in their defiance. Reading these sections, it becomes clear that much of the pleasure of this book lies in its portraits of these unruly women. Like Nector caught between Marie Lazarre’s fierceness and the flapping of those wild geese attached to his wrists, we can’t resist being swept away by their defiance and desire.

16 thoughts on “Love Medicine: Week Two

  1. To comment on Goy Chong, you must read into the literature and find the ties, you cannot say that there are no tie in’s to the entire book, every character relates to each other in one way or another meaning yes there are tie in’s to each individual chapter! And how can I be wrong literature is up to the readers descretion it is not for one to say that another’s ideas are wrong or right each individual is free to their expression of the text. And I disagree that this book was confusing for everyone, many people in my class and in the book discussion I went to had an excellent grasp on the text and its content reflecting the fact that the book to them was far form confusing. It was confusing for some i will say that, yet not for everyone.

  2. The principle motivation of the characters in this chapter is intense personal desire (aka Lust). There is a lack of judgement, self-control, and personal restraint. Nector’s motivation for trying to get the pillowcase from Marie is the prospect of getting a reward for its return, which he hopes to put toward the ring he wants to buy for Lulu. I agree with K.C.–the fact that Nector and Marie had sex does not make them “in love.” There is a huge difference between love and sexual lust. Unfortunately, today’s society–particularly the youth–seem to have trouble making this distinction.

  3. Kaitelyn, while I respect your opinion, I believe that Marie\’s strength is revealed in a different way. It is true that her refusal to allow Nector to enter the house, thus walking on her newly waxed floor, does illustrate Marie\’s attention to detail and constant determintation, I do not believe that it shows her strength. The best example of her strength is when she leaves the letter under the sugar jar. She displays patience and a massive amount of self-control by doing this – all in the face of losing her husband.

  4. T.B.
    “The Good Tears” is by far the worst chapter in this book. Also none of the chapters tie into anything because they all represent different people and it jumps all over the place and is just confusing for everyone. However, I do understand the book enough to know that you’re wrong. That is all.

  5. I do like Marie a lot. I think that she is a very strong willed woman and that is shown in the chapter where Nector leaves the note under the sugar jar. My favorite part in the book is when she tells him that he can’t come in the house because she had just waxed the floor. That shows how strong she really is. She could have blown up at him but she didn’t. She just cleaned and didn’t let him in the house. I think that shows strength.

  6. I wanted to quickly comment on the first comment by Kara and Sergei\’s. I finished reading \"the good tears\" and I have come to really appreciate Lulu. Before I disliked her deeply as a character and as a real person (if she would be one) I was under the impression that she was just the antagonist in the story. After reading the chapter about Lulu I had an understanding of why she was the why she was. I understand her on a more \"personal\" level. I have been swayed in my opinion of Lulu to the point that you could say I am almost a fan.:) \"The good tears\" is a great chapter and really helps you tie the book together.

  7. I would have to agree with Kara up towards the top. \"In love\" those are strong words to be saying when he was just so deeply in love with Lulu. Having sex with someone does not make you \"In Love\" but thats just me i guess other people look at life a little differently that i do. I agree with Taby also with Nector wouldn\’t of kept going back and forth i think Lulu could have been a different person than what we see. I don\’t think she would of got bored and went out to wonder.

  8. While reading Love Medicine Lulu would have to be the on that sticks out when I read this book. She is the one that I am most interested in. It seems to me that she is always stirring something up in town. You see how everyone looks at her so differently because she has all the men. If Lulu wanted something she normally got it. They think Lulu is something so special when really her life is the complete opposite. It really interest me how people see someone she really is not.

  9. Marie is my favorite character in the book. I love how we see her fight for her way at the nunnery and how she had the desire to prove herself in life. She never stops fighting for what she wants. When she meets Nector I wasn’t sure at first about him because I knew of his feelings for Lulu. Then all of a sudden he is attracted to Marie and wants her. Later on in the book we see Marie change and develop in so many positive ways and the way she still cares for Nector and the responsible women she becomes in taking care of her children. She is a strong, loving, and a caring women that does all she can to provide for others, and I admire that in her. I also admire how she doesn’t cheat on Nector when she could have, and when he was doing it to her with Lulu. She knew her responsibility and she remained faithful to her family.

  10. While reading Love Medicine I have seen how characters describe other characters through their stories and the most interesting stories I have read are about Lulu. Everyone describes her always with other men and having a great life because every man loves her and want to be with her. However, in the chapter “The Good Tears” we finally get to hear Lulus point of view on life and it’s very interesting. They say “Lulu Lamartine was like a cat, loving on one, only purring to get what she wanted.” But we see now that what others say is not true. Lulu loves everything. We always see Lulu’s life through other characters but now we see her tell her version of events and I see her as a different person than before. I actually like her. She is a good mother and loves a lot of things but she just can’t seem to get love right when it comes to men. She is searching for love in the wrong way. I see her trying to find love through sleeping with people but it’s not working for her. Her life is a mess when everyone thinks it’s so perfect.

  11. I am commenting on the Marie character and how she has changed throughout the book. Relating back to the geese passage where it states,

    “The geese are to my advantage now; their weight on my arms helps pin her; their dead wings flap around us; their necks loll, and their black eyes stare, frozen. But Marie is not the kind of girl to act frightened of a few dead geese.”

    To me this passage mean at a young age Marie was a fighter. She was very determined and strong willed. Later Nector states that Marie is a strong woman. When she was younger Nector could not bring her down. Nector needed her help to clean the house, cook the food, and raise the kids. By the end of the book life and Nector has changed Marie. Marie was no longer as strong as she once was. She had become weak. So weak she has let Nector walk all over her. Nector did as he pleased while Marie did her normal day-to-day thing. She knew what was happening, but chose to do nothing about it.

  12. Although I agree with Taby that when we meet Nector in “Wild Geese” he is young and has bad judgment, think about his actions later in the book. Can we blame his bad judgment on youth, or is it his personality? He spends his entire life treating Marie badly and returning to Lulu night after night. What I see most in both Nector and Marie, however, is stubbornness. In the chapter “Love Medicine,” we see how Marie is so stubborn in her love that she eats a whole turkey heart raw to regain Nector. Then on the other hand, we see how stubborn Nector is in his infidelity that he refuses outright to eat the heart. I think this stubbornness is what united them in the first place. When they first met, Nector saw himself in Marie. As they grow older together, their similarities become more apparent all the way until Nector dies as a result his and Marie’s stubbornness.

  13. Nector was going to see Lulu but ran into Marie. I don’t think he really fell in love with her, I think he was just attracted to her and got caught up in the moment. I also don’t think Nector would have gone and cheated on Marie with Lulu for so long if he was truly in love with Marie. If Nector wouldn’t have met Marie and “feel in love” with her, Lulu might have been a different person than she is portrayed as in the story. If Lulu and Nector would have gotten married, Lulu might have been able to stay with him and not get bored. She was sleeping with him for four or five years later in life while Nector was still with Marie and she hadn’t been with anyone else other than him for that amount of time. I think that Nector truly loved Lulu and not Marie, and things would have been different if Nector had never met Marie.

  14. Good point, Kara. You’re right to tell us to suspend judgment about Lulu. Our whole understanding of her character is based at this point on other people’s judgments. If we judge her, we’re like those people who whisper behind her back at the tribal meeting. We see her very differently when we get to “The Good Tears.”

    Tabytha, I agree that we should see Nector as very young, and not really a good judge of his own desires, during that first scene with Marie. At the same time, he’s clearly surprised by what happens, and I think it’s important to see him as caught up by a power he can’t comprehend: love medicine, as it’s described in the book, is an irresistible force, a kind of fierce magic that our rational minds can’t understand. And he’s caught both ways, tied to both Marie and Lulu. That’s something stronger than just another opportunity coming along, and it comes close to ruining his life.

  15. I think it is quite interesting how we are introduced to Nector as a young boy. We see his lust for Lulu and he tells us how he is saving money for that French wedding band, but then another opportunity comes along and he takes it. When I read this, I thought of very young kids worried about marriage and such and don’t really regard it is important, but simply as foolish thinking. We see that one sexual experience eventually leads to their marriage, and Nector giving up on the wedding band and Lulu.

  16. As for the chapter “Wild Geese,” it’s very interesting because it’s a complete turn of events. We see Nector all in love with Lulu but he meets Marie, they have sex and he finds himself “in love,” when it truly seems as though he’s just settling for Marie. When June appears at Nector and Marie’s door, they don’t really want to take her in right then because they already have many children to care for. Marie first sees June as an almost trouble maker, but later comes to love June as her own daughter and even says that she almost favored June over the other children. “Lulu’s Boys” is another of many interesting chapters. We learn about Lulu and all of her sons, of which many don’t have the same father. I see this chapter as being told by someone else, and not only someone else, but a man. Lulu isn’t seen as such a good person until we read the chapter “The Good Tears.” In this chapter we finally get Lulu’s perspective. She is really a dynamic and positive character, she loves life and everything in the world, so don’t judge her too quick, wait until you hear her side.

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