Louise Erdrich’s early literary life included Shakespeare and English poetry, as well as the oral storytelling traditions of her Native American forebears. This exposure to a rich variety of styles and forms is reflected in the scope and sheer number of her books. In addition to many novels (including one co-written with her then-husband Michael Dorris), Erdrich has published children’s books, volumes of poetry, short fiction, and works of non-fiction.
Love Medicine was published in 1984, to both critical and commercial acclaim. Several of Erdrich’s subsequent novels—The Beet Queen (1986), Tracks (1988), The Bingo Palace (1994), and Tales of Burning Love (1996)—feature characters who first appeared in Love Medicine. The 1993 “expanded edition” of Love Medicine includes four new chapters that link key events and characters in that novel to those of The Bingo Palace.
Like Love Medicine, The Beet Queen has multiple narrators, but the focus in this novel is on German-American families in the fictional town of Argus, North Dakota. Like the earlier novel, The Beet Queen concerns itself with issues of parenting and abandonment, focusing on fourteen-year-old Karl Adare and his younger sister, Mary, who arrive in Argus in search of their aunt Fritzie, after being abandoned by their mother. The children are soon separated, and the novel follows their individual narratives over several decades.
Tracks functions as a “prequel” to Love Medicine. Here Erdrich explores the conflict between Catholicism and native beliefs through the elder generation of characters from Love Medicine: Eli Kashpaw, Fleur Pillager, and the elder Nanapush. The alternating narrators in this novel often present conflicting versions of the same event, casting doubt on each other’s credibility and forcing the reader to choose sides.
In The Bingo Palace, Erdrich sets two of the younger characters from Love Medicine in opposition to each other. Lipsha Morrissey and Lyman Lamartine are rivals in love with the same woman, Shawnee Ray Toose. Lipsha is a dreamer, gifted in the old ways of tribal healing, while Lyman is a practical and ambitious businessman. These two men may represent choices—old ways versus new—for today’s Native Americans.
One of Erdrich’s more recent works of fiction, The Plague of Doves (2008), is also a novel-in-stories. The novel, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, opens with the 1911 slaughter of a North Dakota farming family. Three Native Americans are wrongly accused of the crime and lynched, but one survives. This survivor’s granddaughter, Evelina, becomes the novel’s main narrator, showing the reader how the earlier crimes affect families, and indeed the entire town, over many generations. The Round House (2012) is the second book in this trilogy, and LaRose (2016) is the third.