I love Louise Erdrich’s powerful use of language in her novel, Love Medicine, but her characters are what I most admire. She portrays Native Americans with their strengths and their weaknesses, and while we may not initially like many of the characters, they grow on us as we experience their stories. There is a potency, a history, a past and a connection. Despite lives ruined by government intervention, alcohol and hard luck, there is an ability to endure hardships that generates our respect.
I write about books that provide a connection to the divine. I find spirituality in Erdrich’s characters: in the commitment to themselves, to each other, and to the returning home to their past. This is a belief in something greater than ourselves. Spirituality is not what name we call God or a Higher Being; it is living as if such an entity or belief exists and matters.
Louise Erdrich’s characters have a resolve not immediately apparent in their lives, but as we watch them grow, that resilience becomes obvious. Their lives aren’t easy. Their plight is one for which we deserve so much blame, a blame alluded to in the novel, yet not the focal point of any of the short stories that weave this work together.
In the face of adversity, these characters rise up as an admirable group, one that deserves respect for their toughness. Yes, that is the human spirit rising above the mundane. That is spirituality, a larger-than-life view.
Erdrich’s characters love one another, they love family, and they love their tribal connections. That is what we admire. They never seem completely lost. Even when one commits suicide, we don’t see the desperation as much as understanding and acceptance. Is this because of their Indian ancestry? Do they inherit a past we can never fully comprehend or mimic? Are all peoples so strong? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
The story is compelling; the characters force us to care. And we do. We want to be better people without realizing why, as we watch them surmount the human condition, no matter how depressing or abusive their lives.
We want to rise above a feeling that we should shoulder blame for allowing Native Americans to be confined to reservations, ripped from their culture, and forced into schools only to be spit back again with limited resources and opportunities. Our challenge is to read about and accept that blame, then move on to be as strong as our Native American role models in conquering the past while incorporating it into our consciousness. Her characters do that.
So must we as we continue our mystic journey.