By Louise Erdrich
Hardcover, 384 pages, Harper; First Edition edition (May 10, 2016)
Reviewed by Ida Hagman
"Our son is your son now." These words are spoken by Landreaux Iron, one of the main characters in LaRose, Louise Erdrich's most recent novel. The novel follows the consequences of an unthinkable tragedy. Landreaux Iron shoots what he believes to be a deer, but when the deer leaps away, Landreaux sees that he has killed Dusty Ravich, the five-year-old who lived next door. Landreaux, whose family and neighbors are of mixed Ojibwa/European ancestry, turns to the ancient practice of a sweat lodge in search of forgiveness and restitution. The vision quest reveals that Landreaux and his wife Emmaline must make amends by replacing the lost son with their own. As a consequence, the Irons send their five-year-old, LaRose, to live with the Raviches. Now there are two families grieving for a lost son.
The Irons and the Raviches live just just outside an Ojibwa reservation. Both families share mixed native American and European backgrounds. Erdrich herself is the daughter of a Chippewa mother and a German-American father, and her books explore the issues that confront people of her ancestry. However, her writings go beyond parochial issues to life's universals. The best novels, such as LaRose, attempt to answer the difficult questions of life such as how do we transcend grief, how do we make reparations, when and how can we forgive and love again.
Erdrich's style is uncompromisingly honest both in characterization and style. One of my favorite characters is Maggie Ravich, LaRose's teenage sister, who, with her fierce anger and intelligence, reminds me of students I have known. Erdrich's style doesn't diminish the pain but it makes us feel it directly. Readers may want to turn away from the hurt, the tragedy, but Erdrich gives us life as it is in all its brutal pain and beauty.
I became acquainted with Erdrich's writing many years ago when I read Love Medicine and The Beet Queen. I found these books fascinating but also very puzzling. In contrast, LaRose is marvelous AND accessible. And, I'm not alone in that opinion. The reviews of LaRose are full of superlatives. Philip Roth compares Erdrich to Faulkner and calls her "one of the very best of American writers". The Washington Post called LaRose "A masterly tale of grief and love."
In doing some research for this review I learned that LaRose is the third book in a trilogy. Once I am finished reading books for the FAW adult awards committee, I plan to read the other books which are A Plague of Doves, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and The Round House, winner of the National Book Award for fiction. If you like Louise Erdrich's writing, LaRose is a must read.