In the opening pages of Love Medicine (1984), Louise Erdrich's award-winning first novel, a young Chippewa woman, June Morrissey, leaves a stray man she has picked up in a bar and walks into the teeth of a North Dakota blizzard, eventually freezing to death. Erdrich's latest novel, certainly her most daring and perhaps her most compelling, returns to Morrissey's death, but this time focusing on the heretofore faceless man in the bar. Jack Mauser was a cocky construction worker in 1972 when he failed to follow Morrissey into the blizzard, and he has been reliving that incident and its ramifications through two decades and four wives. We pick up Mauser's story in 1994 with Jack married to Dot Nanapush (The Beet Queen, 1986) but obsessed with first-wife Eleanor, recently reappeared in his life: "Falling back in love with your first wife while married to your fifth was a sticky, stupid business." Yes, but sticky and stupid in that messy, painfully funny, real-life kind of way. If Jack's slapsticky bumbling--winning and losing women and money with equal abandon--is the novel's fulcrum, his four wives are its heart. Always a master of the extended set-piece, Erdrich reaches new heights here, conjuring up another North Dakota blizzard to trap the four Mauser wives, who are driving home from Jack's funeral (it's not quite what you think). Huddled in a Ford Escort, they stay alive by fending off sleep with "Tales of Burning Love." Not only revealing the depths of their feelings for the hapless Jack, these four-gals-sitting-around-talking-to-keep-from-freezing also come to recognize the strength of their bonds with one another and the depths of their individual resilience. In Erdrich's world, both women and men freeze to death from lack of love--the June Morrissey paradigm--but they are also capable of bringing themselves back to life. The power of narrative and the salvation of love have always been Erdrich's quintessential themes, but here she expresses them with even greater force and clarity. A wise, wonderful, and wickedly funny novel. (Reviewed March 1, 1996)0060176059Bill Ott
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review
Some of the excitement that greeted Erdrich's first book, Love Medicine, will be rekindled with the publication of her captivating fifth novel. While building on the strengths for which she is noted (she again portrays several Native American families whose interconnected life stories coalesce into a unified narrative), Erdrich here broadens her range and ambitions. She constructs this book with a more conventional novelistic form and sets most of it outside the reservation. A robust richness of both plot and character, and an irresistible fusion of tension, mystery and dramatic momentum, add up to powerful, magical storytelling. Two epochal, whiteout North Dakota blizzards 23 years apart define the major events of Jack Mauser's life. During the first, in 1972, his young Chipewa wife, whom he has just married after a few hours acquaintance during a drunken binge, leave his car to perish in the cold (an event foreshadowed in The Bingo Palace). During the second, in 1995, Jack's succeeding wives, all four of them, are trapped overnight in Jack's van, having come together for his funeral. In this quartet of personalities, Erdrich creates a gallery of indelible portraits, each of them distinct, vivid and human in their frailties. What they have in common, their love for charming, preening, self-destructive Jack, is their means of survival through the frigid night. Each woman tells her tale-always full of passion, but often farcical, too-of how Jack wooed, wed, frustrated, drove to distraction, liberated and deserted her. These stories provide both catharsis and insight, allowing each to understand how she in turn contributed to Jack's destruction. And the dialogue, especially the bickering among claustrophobically confined women, is pungent and smart. Erdrich reveals here a new talent for unexpected plot twists and cliff-hanger chapter endings, some funny, some melodramatic. If there are a few too many coincidences (Jack, who is presumed dead but is not, reluctantly kidnaps his own infant son, who in turn is kidnapped by Jack's fifth wife's ex-husband, also presumed dead), it all seems quite plausible in the context of Erdrich's adroit manipulation of interlocking plot strands. Her eye for sensual detail is impeccable, whether it is the evocation of the landscape and weather of the North Dakota plains or the many erotic couplings that Jack's wives, and Jack himself, remember. Jack, too, is a triumph; he's a real scamp and philanderer with other deplorable character traits, but Erdrich limns him with tolerant humor and compassion. Erdrich has definitely gone commercial here, and some readers may miss the ethereal, mystical qualities of her early work. But like several characters who are psychologically or almost literally reborn, reinspired and reset on life's path, Erdrich has granted her literary reputation refreshing new potency. 100,000 first printing; $150,000 ad/promo; author tour; first serial to Cosmopolitan; Literary Guild alternate; dramatic rights: Charles Rembar. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Library Journal Review
In her new novel, Erdrich departs from her "Love Medicine" series, but-if the title is any indication-not from the forthright passion that has always colored her work. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Karen Louise Erdrich was born on June 7, 1954 in Little Falls, Minnesota. Erdrich grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where both of her parents were employed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. Erdrich graduated from Dartmouth College in 1976 with an AB degree, and she received a Master of Arts in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University in 1979. Erdrich published a number of poems and short stories from 1978 to 1982. In 1981 she married author and anthropologist Michael Dorris, and together they published The World's Greatest Fisherman, which won the Nelson Algren Award in 1982. In 1984 she won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Love Medicine, which is an expansion of a story that she had co-written with Dorris. Love Medicine was also awarded the Virginia McCormick Scully Prize (1984), the Sue Kaufman Prize (1985) and the Los Angeles Times Award for best novel (1985). In addition to her prose, Erdrich has written several volumes of poetry, a textbook, children's books, and short stories and essays for popular magazines. She has been the recipient of numerous awards for professional excellence, including the National Magazine Fiction Award in 1983 and a first-prize O. Henry Award in 1987. Erdrich has also received the Pushcart Prize in Poetry, the Western Literacy Association Award, the 1999 World Fantasy Award, and the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction in 2006. In 2007 she refused to accept an honorary doctorate from the University of North Dakota in protest of its use of the "Fighting Sioux" name and logo. Erdrich's novel The Round House made the New York Times bestseller list in 2013. (Bowker Author Biography)