LOVE MEDICINE by Louise Erdrich

I first read Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine for my first ever book group, the one of sainted memory in Philadelphia in the 90’s. When we discussed the book, one person commented on a rape scene, someone else said, “what rape scene?” and we compared editions, finding subtle changes that made for different interpretations.

When I went to lead a book group on Love Medicine last fall, I discovered there were now 3 different versions of the book in print. It took me a fair bit of googling and book shopping to ferret out the differences, which I’ll share, but I’ll start by comparing the passage that started the conversation all these years ago.

…when I take my hand away she speaks.

“I’ve had better.”

I know this isn’t true, that I was just now the first, and I can even hear the shake in her voice, but that makes no difference. (p61, Love Medicine 1984)

The later version:

…when I take my hand away she growls.

“I’ve had better.”

I know that isn’t true because we haven’t done anything yet. She just doesn’t know what comes next. I can hear the shake in her voice, but that makes no difference. (p65, Love Medicine 2009, based on the 1993 revision).

While there are many different editions of the book, there are three versions I have found. The first is the original, published in 1984.

Then in 1993 came the New and expanded edition. It added four chapters to the original: The Island, Resurrection, The Tomahawk Factory, and Lyman’s Luck. Then, in 2009 came the Newly Revised Edition, which keeps The Island and Resurrection, drops Lyman’s Luck altogether, and puts The Tomahawk factory in the back with interviews and information. In the notes, Erdrich says The Tomaawk Factory was one of the first stories she wrote in what would become Love Medicine, but it didn’t make the cut of the first draft, and when it was included in the expanded edition, she realized it dragged the pacing down toward the end of the book.

So, which should you get? Ideally, the one you buy at the bookstore she owns, Birchbark, in Minneapolis, where they have two versions of the Newly Revised Edition. Also, as you shop the store, there are handwritten recommendations by the staff and by her, so it’s like you’re going book shopping with a really smart friend.

If you’re a completist, then go for owning all three, or for the New and Expanded edition, because that has the most stories.

Having researched this, I’d opt for the most recent, which has good back matter, and is missing only Lyman’s Luck, a four-page chapter. But if you haven’t yet read Erdrich, Love Medicine is a great place to start.

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