Love Medicine

Love Medicine Summary and Analysis of Chapter 9: A Bridge


This chapter is narrated in the third person and focuses on the characters Albertine and Henry Junior.

When Albertine is fifteen, she runs away from home. She takes a bus to Fargo and arrives late at night, alone and with no money left. She is clutching a bundle that contains her clothes. She sits in the bus terminal, goes to the bathroom, and sees a soldier who might be Chippewa. She follows him into the street but soon loses sight of him. She then wanders down Northern Pacific Avenue, past dive bars and pawnshops, not knowing where to go, until she sees the man again.

The narrator reveals that the soldier is in fact Henry Lamartine Junior, one of Lulu's sons, back from Vietnam after being imprisoned there for half a year. He has known this whole time that Albertine was following him and finds himself attracted to her. He turns to talk to her and the two discover that they know each other's families. They go to a bar and get drunk, then leave and go to a hotel.

Henry finds that he is much more inebriated than Albertine once they get to the room. She disappears into the bathroom and he waits for her, talking to himself and growing more incoherent. The reader is allowed to hear the thoughts of both characters. Albertine is scared of Henry and is hiding in the bathroom, worried that he is crazy. Henry comes in and promises not to touch her. They go to sleep in the same bed.

Yet Albertine cannot sleep. She initiates sex with Henry and they have a very brief encounter. After a short break, Henry starts having sex with her: she never consents and never objects, and neither one speaks to the other. She then sleeps curled up as far away from him as possible. In the morning, Albertine cannot remember anything at first. Henry wakes up in a panic attack after remembering a bayoneted woman in Vietnam, yet calms himself and weeps in front of Albertine



In this chapter, the reader learns a lot more about Albertine as a teenager and about Henry as an adult. Each character has only been seen, respectively, as an adult (23 years old) and as a child (7). Erdrich sets up the beginning of the chapter to seem mostly like a story about Albertine having an encounter with a mysterious man, but by the fifth page she reveals that the man is in fact Henry Junior. This surprise demonstrates how closely interwoven the Chippewa families of North Dakota are.

As described in this chapter, Albertine is very young and naive. One telling line reveals that she has probably been a frequent caretaker for young children: "The compressed bundle of her jeans and underwear, tied in a thick sweater, felt reassuring as a baby against her stomach, and she clutched it close." Albertine is very childish in her impulsive departure from home, yet this line reveals that it is a baby, not a soft blanket or stuffed animals, that she would associate with something comforting to hold close to her body.

Without his backstory taken into consideration, Henry could appear to be a predatory young man. Yet Erdrich evokes his haunting history in Vietnam, and this helps the reader to empathize with him. He was a prisoner for six months: "Henry Lamartine Junior carried enough shrapnel deep inside of him, still working its way out, to set off the metal detector in the airport," Erdrich writes. The shrapnel clearly symbolizes his damaged psyche: he is both psychologically and physically wounded, and the shrapnel inside forcing its way out indicates that he is deeply damaged inside and trying to recover, however painfully.

Henry's Post-Traumatic Stress shows up several more times in the chapter. Each such instance reveals the depths of his haunting. When he opens the bathroom door on Albertine, he finds her crouched on the floor clutching a bundle of her clothing, and "he saw her as the woman back there" - a small Vietnamese woman he questioned while she was dying, hemorrhaging from a bayonet wound. And when he wakes up the next morning, hungover and disoriented, he "shrieked. Exploded." Again, without having his own thought process explained throughout the chapter, he could seem like an insane predator. But Erdrich's skillful interweaving of two third-person points of view in this chapter reveals unlikely sides to both Albertine's and Henry's characters.