Book Review: LaRose by Louise Erdrich (29/99)

LaRoseLaRose by Louise Erdrich
Harper
2016
372 pages

When you pick up a Louise Erdrich novel, you know to expect an intricate, intergenerational story with many layers and an emphasis on the richness of Native American Indian culture.

Erdrich’s newest book, LaRose, has all of these elements set amidst a family tragedy. While hunting a deer, Landreaux Iron accidentally shoots and kills his neighbor’s 5 year old son, Dusty Ravich.  (This isn’t a spoiler; it happens within the first few paragraphs and is mentioned in every description about the novel.)

Although LaRose is set in modern times — most of the narrative occurs circa 1999  and is set in North Dakota — Landreaux turns to the ancient Ojibwe tradition of giving up one’s own child as atonement.

And that’s exactly what happens:  with the reluctance of his wife Emmaline, he gives his son LaRose (who was a playmate of Dusty’s) to Peter and Nola Ravich to raise.  As if this wasn’t awkward, sad, or complicated enough, the two families are related; Emmaline and Nola are half-sisters.

While most of the novel focuses on the two families’ grief and their individual ways of coping with this tragedy,  there’s a complex backstory that Erdrich brings into the narrative.  LaRose Iron, who is given to the Ravich family  to raise, is actually the fifth LaRose in a long lineage of individuals — male and female — with the same name.

At times, I found these additional plotlines and characters confusing — and this is one of those novels where there aren’t any quotation marks, which can often make it difficult to determine who is speaking. I liked LaRose, but the structure and the multiple narratives were occasionally challenging.

This is the fifth Louise Erdrich book I’ve read. Others were The Round Housewinner of the National Book Award; Shadow Tag, which I read in one sitting; The Painted Drum, which contains one of the best quotes I’ve ever read; and The Red Convertible: Selected and New Stories, 1978-2008, my first introduction to Erdrich’s work.  (Links take you to my reviews.) With her resonant prose, reading a Louise Erdrich novel is always a rich literary and historical experience. In that aspect, LaRose does not disappoint.

* OK, here’s the quote:
“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.”

I just love that.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #29 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.