When my friend Kristin decided to that her book club would start reading one Louise Erdrich novel every year, starting with the very first one, I was excited--I love Louise Erdrich! But at the same time, I was sort of worried. I haven't had good luck in going back and reading early books by authors whose later works I've loved. I read Love Medicine when it first came out and remembered liking it a lot. Would it hold up after such wonders as The Master Butcher's Singing Club or The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse or the National Book Award-winning The Round House?
Turns out I had no need to worry. Louise Erdrich was a stellar writer from the get-go. Love Medicine is a novel in stories, centered around several Native American families in North Dakota. The stories are funny, heartbreaking, violent, sexy--you name an emotional state, it's here. And it's clear that Erdrich has a great deal of affection for her characters, even as many of them are seriously flawed. She never condescends or mocks them, which gets the reader on their side, even when they're doing stupid or frightening things.
I've complained many times on this blog about reading first novels that felt like they were rushed to publication before the book was really ready. While Love Medicine isn't quite as polished as some of Erdrich's later books, it's still an excellent read, one I will return to. And now I only have to wait another year before we read the next one.