Tag Archives: Louise Erdrich

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

LaRoseLaRose by Louise Erdrich
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. 


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sunday salon/currently: the waiting and reading room

Sunday Salon banner

Finally, some sun. Although it’s cooler than I would prefer (I’m wearing a long-sleeved shirt AND a cardigan), I can’t resist the chance to sit outside on the deck after all the cloudy and damp days we’ve had this spring.  Like all good things, it’s probably not going to last; I heard it was raining at the Pirates game (PNC Park is within a half hour from here, depending on traffic and construction and whatnot).

It’s really something how the weather can have such an impact on one’s mood. Mine has definitely been affected. It doesn’t help that I’ve been spending much of the past several weeks in doctors’ waiting rooms, probably some of the most depressing places on Earth. I’m convinced the banality of the dreck that passes for morning TV has embedded itself into my brain. Seriously, I have no idea how the hell people watch that crap.

(Things are, physically-speaking, okay. Nobody needs to be alarmed. It’s follow-ups and regularly-scheduled appointments and answer-seeking still in progress.)

Of course, I never go to any of these appointments without my own reading material, so the positive side to all this schlepping and waiting around is that I’ve gotten through a few books, including some DNFs (Best American Poetry 2013 and Burning Down the House by Jane Mendelsohn, which I really wanted to love but didn’t).

The notable ones, though, have been stellar.

The Best American Essays 2015

A fantastic collection of essays — most by writers who are well-known (Hilton Als, Roger Angell, Justin Cronin, Meghan Daum, Anthony Doerr, David Sedaris, Zadie Smith, Rebecca Solnit, Cheryl Strayed, and others).  These aren’t gratuitous inclusions; this collection is a winner and these essays will stay with you.

The Art of Description

Being the huge fangirl that I am, I’ll read anything by Mark Doty. This little book was on display in the library’s poetry room (yes, we are lucky ducks here in Pittsburgh … our library has an extensive poetry section as well as its own room, which is rather grand). The Art of Description: World Into Word is a must for every writer. Doty examines description as part of poetry and the result is akin to being in a writing class with a master.

Tales of Accidental Genius

Yesterday I started Tales of Accidental Genius, a short story collection by Simon Van Booy.  I’ve read three of these and so far, so good. I would describe this collection as quietly surprising. (Short stories are, incidentally, great choices for waiting room reading material.)


And finally, I was lucky enough to snag a copy of LaRose by Louise Erdrich from the library, her newest novel.  I’m engrossed in this story about two families who are also neighbors; during a hunting accident, one neighbor kills the other’s five year old son.  To atone for this, he sends his own five year old son to live with the bereaved parents and to be raised by them.

Listening (Audiobooks) …

Sin in the Second City

It’s been awhile since I’ve listened to an audiobook (this will be only my second this year),  but when I saw Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott at the library this week, I realized that would qualify for #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks since I have the print version. This is a nonfiction account of Ada and Minna Everleigh, sisters and proprietors of the Everleigh Club, a famous high-end brothel in Chicago during 1900-1911. The audiobook is great. (I’m fascinated with their keen marketing sense and financial savvy!)

Listening (Podcasts) … 
For months now, the Pocket Casts app on my phone has been acting strange. As a result, I haven’t been listening to many podcasts.  I think I figured out the issue and was able to catch “The Accidental Gay Parents #3,”  and “The Accidental Gay Parents #4,” episodes #80 and #81 from The Longest Shortest Time. LST is one of my favorite podcasts and I love this series and this family.

My go-to source for all-things-podcast is The Timbre, a fantastic site. I suppose that should be past-tense, because the site’s creators announced that they are closing up shop. Their reasons are understandable but I’ll certainly miss seeing their recommendations in my news feed.


PeaceBang’s post about “Outliving a Parent” resonated with me.

For reasons I can’t and won’t get into here, Dani Fleischer’s essay in The Washington Post (“Friends grow apart all the time but we rarely talk about it”) is very much something I’m experiencing right now. (And yes, I am aware of the irony of that statement, thankyouverymuch.)

This week was National EMS Week and my friend John (who writes the popular Pittsburgh blog Ya Jagoff!) explains why this is so important.   Because of our experience on Thanksgiving, we know all too well how valuable EMTs are and I’m so grateful they were there when we needed them. And thank you, John, for your service as an EMT to our community.

My Listen to Your Mother castmates have been writing some incredible stuff lately. Those pieces deserve their own post. Look for that later this week.

And now it’s raining. Of course it is.

Back inside I go.


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The Sunday Salon: July 29

The Sunday Salon

If you’ve been following along with our adventures this week, you already know we’ve had a few exciting days. I signed Boo up for a week-long camp hosted by iCan Shine, a national nonprofit that teaches individuals with disabilities how to ride a two-wheel bicycle. I’m not being dramatic when I say that this was a life-changing experience for him. (You can find my posts here.)

It involved driving nearly an hour each way, but somehow I managed to finish three books this week:

Love Is the CureThe Dangers of Proximal AlphabetsJacklight

Love Is the Cure: On Life, Loss, and the End of AIDS, by Elton John
The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, by Kathleen Abbott
Jacklight, Poems by Louise Erdrich

I discussed the Elton book a bit in last week’s Salon, so I’ll save any further comments for my full review. (Suffice it to say, I liked it.)

The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets … holy cow. I finished this on Wednesday and it still hasn’t left me. I’m still gathering my thoughts about this one. It’s a complex, haunting look at what it means to really know and love someone, and if we ever really do. This is likely to be one of my favorites of the year.

Published in 1984, Jacklight is Louise Erdrich’s first book of poetry (I think). I actually didn’t know she had written poetry, so I was intrigued to read this – as well as Baptism of Desire, which I liked a bit more. 

And of course, in keeping with my trend of late, there were two DNFs. I have Andre Dubus III’s upcoming novel Dirty Love to review for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, so I thought I should acquaint myself with a few of his previous books that have been on my TBR shelves.

Well, hopefully The Garden of Last Days isn’t indicative of what I’m in for, because I only made it to page 44. I couldn’t stand the thought of feeling like I needed to take a shower for another 450+ pages. I guess I was expecting a little bit … more in terms of the writing. This felt too tedious. And smarmy. I’m thinking of trying House of Sand and Fog next.

I also gave up on The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman. The breaking point with this was when one of the characters becomes a millionaire (make that a $357 millionaire) overnight when her Internet data storage company (think Google) goes public.

Because, you know, that happens ALL. THE. TIME in these Great Depression days.

Obviously, this feels dated. That’s because this book is set in Fall 1999. Yes, Dear Reader, there was a time many years ago when such things as IPOs really did happen and people really did do things like day-trading and give “friends and family” special stock offerings. (Alas, I was never fortunate to have any such people as friends or family.)

Given that it’s now 2013 and I’ve been unable to find a full-time job for 14 months now and I have little tolerance in reading about multi-gazillionaires, I’m giving this one a pass.

(I take that back, about the not reading about multi-gazillionaires. One of the books I just checked out of the library was Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, by Chrystia Freeland. I’m kind of into recessionary journalism these days.)

Helen Keller in LoveI’m currently listening to Helen Keller in Love, by Rosie Sultan. This historical fiction novel is absolutely fascinating as it imagines a part of Helen Keller’s life that is little known. Because the Helen Keller that most people think of is the blind and deaf seven year old girl at the water well with Annie Sullivan spelling the word WATER into her palm. Her life story stops there – and doesn’t continue with her speaking engagements around the country, her Socialist thoughts on President Wilson and the war, and most importantly, her feelings for Peter Fagan.

I’ll have much more to say about this, including some thoughts on how Helen Keller in Love could help dispel the misconception that people with disabilities lack sexual feelings and somehow don’t long for intimacy. As Ms. Sultan’s prose makes clear, nothing could be further from the truth. I’m really enjoying this as an audiobook; it is highly recommended as such.

Hope you had a great weekend!





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