The Big Read Blog (Archive)


September 2, 2009
Washington, DC

By e_walk from Flickr

While ostensibly focused on two different cultures, Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine and Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club actually have a lot in common. Both novels are comprised of  interconnected stories, which layer the past and future to explore ideas about what we gain and what we lose through our family relationships. In an interview with the NEA, Tan spoke about how Erdrich's first novel---published five years before Tan's---influenced her at a very critical point in her fiction writing career.

I started writing fiction in 1985.  I was seriously looking at the notion that I should write fiction and try to do it the rest of my life. . . I started writing a number of different short stories.  They weren?t all of the same family, and it never occurred to me I would write  a book of them. They were just separate stories.

Then one day I was in Hawaii, and I started reading this phenomenal book, Love Medicine, by Louise Erdrich. Somebody had recommended this to me---I wish I could remember who---but I started reading this, and all of a sudden it was like electricity going through the top of my head and through my body because these were the kinds of stories that I was trying to write.

This was about families and history and finding layers.  I was finding layers of myself by starting to write a few of these [stories], and here was a complete book of somebody who had found that, whether these are specifically her family or not. . . [The stories] were told in different voices and that was what was exciting as well, that each of these voices, each was different and they were voices of men and women and of different generations. I read this, and I thought "How does this writer know these things?" 

So [Love Medicine] gave me encouragement but it also gave me permission, in a way, to write these different stories of people based in a community, and that would be my framework for continuing to write them. . . .{It also gave me] a new challenge to hone in on voices and what was particular about a voice. It?s more than diction, it's more than just a way of speaking.  It is what each of these people believe and how they go about their lives based on that belief.

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