Recommended Reading: LaRose, by Louise Erdrich


LaRose“Our son will be your son now,” Landreaux Iron says to his best friend, Peter Ravich, near the beginning of LaRose.

Landreaux and his wife Emmaline (half sister to Nola, Peter’s wife) have come to deliver their son to the Raviches because Landreaux has inadvertently killed Dusty, the Raviches’ young son and best friend of LaRose, the Irons’ youngest child. Heart-stricken and in agony, they consult their priest, Father Travis, and their Ojibwe traditions before making the fateful choice to hand over their child.

IMG_6770The accident and the sacrifice that follows are the rock thrown into a murky pool; the rest of the novel details the ripples and the matter brought to the surface.

The Irons’ sacrificial act of justice slakes Peter’s need for retribution, and both devastated families grope toward healing. Nola latches on to LaRose immediately, while Maggie, Dusty’s troubled older sister, takes longer to come around; when she does, it is with fierce and fearsome loyalty.

Meanwhile, Emmaline retreats from Landreaux, and their children (Hollis, adopted from one of Landreaux’s childhood friends, Romeo, who’s now an addict and grifter); Josette and Snow, volleyball players and dispensers of sage teenage advice; and Coochy, solid and quiet) try to make their way around the hole their brother’s absence has left in their lives.

Eventually, Peter realizes that LaRose must be allowed to see his mother, and so the little boy shuttles back and forth between his two families, bringing Maggie along with him. He’s unusually perceptive and empathetic, always checking in on the feelings of the family around him and becoming the son or the brother they need in the moment.

LaRose can interact with another world; he can see and hear the spirits of departed people, from Dusty to the first LaRose in his family. This ability is almost an echo of the novel’s narrative mode, which finds scenes from the North Dakota of 1999-2003 intercut with descriptions of the first LaRose’s life in the early nineteenth century, her daughter’s story, and Landreaux’s attempted escape from boarding school as a child. The novel’s sense of time works like a tapestry, the older events not exactly gone or even over, but layered under present events, peeking through in the right light. (In this book race, like history, is a story in flux; it’s not always so easy to say who is white and who is Native American, when the threads of assimilation and tradition are tangled.)

While Landreaux determines to push on after the accident (“But the harder, the best, the only thing to do was to say alive. Stay with the consequences, with his family. Take on the shame although its rank weight smothered him.”), and Peter works hard to do the same, one man cannot let it go: Romeo, whose son Hollis lives with the Irons. In his eyes Landreaux is a rival, a thief who stole the life that could have been Romeo’s (and what a great choice for a name—how better to conjure the useless pursuit of vengeance?). Romeo (father of one and yet father to none) lurks in the periphery, piecing together something to tear the families apart again. But in the background too is Father Travis (father of none and yet father to many), doing his small part to hold things together.

And at the center of them all is LaRose.

LaRose is a magnificent novel about family: families of origin, families formed through adoption and loss, sacrifice and grace, broken families soldered back together. Highly recommended.

Related posts:

Review of The Round House

Poetry: Jacklight

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.

11 thoughts on “Recommended Reading: LaRose, by Louise Erdrich

  1. Oh, the agony. It makes me think of A Map of the World – one of my worst nightmares.
    But, I haven’t read any of Erdrich’s books, and I would love to try one!

    • She’s fantastic. If the premise of this one is too agonizing, try The Round House–brilliant. And it came out a few years ago, so it should be at the library!

  2. Hey-o! I’m reading LaRose right now! I just got to the end of the section about Hollis and Romeo escaping from their boarding school, which was amazing and heartbreaking. So far Maggie is my favorite; I can never resist an angry girl character. (So I hope she is okay at the end of this book! I love her and I want her to be okay!)

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