Review: LaRose by Louise Erdrich


☆☆➹⁀☆ 4 stars☆➹⁀☆☆


What it’s about:

In this literary masterwork, Louise Erdrich, the bestselling author of the National Book Award-winning The Round Houseand the Pulitzer Prize nominee The Plague of Doves wields her breathtaking narrative magic in an emotionally haunting contemporary tale of a tragic accident, a demand for justice, and a profound act of atonement with ancient roots in Native American culture.

North Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence—but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich.

The youngest child of his friend and neighbor, Peter Ravich, Dusty was best friends with Landreaux’s five-year-old son, LaRose. The two families have always been close, sharing food, clothing, and rides into town; their children played together despite going to different schools; and Landreaux’s wife, Emmaline, is half sister to Dusty’s mother, Nola. Horrified at what he’s done, the recovered alcoholic turns to an Ojibwe tribe tradition—the sweat lodge—for guidance, and finds a way forward. Following an ancient means of retribution, he and Emmaline will give LaRose to the grieving Peter and Nola. “Our son will be your son now,” they tell them.

LaRose is quickly absorbed into his new family. Plagued by thoughts of suicide, Nola dotes on him, keeping her darkness at bay. His fierce, rebellious new “sister,” Maggie, welcomes him as a co conspirator who can ease her volatile mother’s terrifying moods. Gradually he’s allowed shared visits with his birth family, whose sorrow mirrors the Raviches’ own. As the years pass, LaRose becomes the linchpin linking the Irons and the Raviches, and eventually their mutual pain begins to heal.

But when a vengeful man with a long-standing grudge against Landreaux begins raising trouble, hurling accusations of a cover-up the day Dusty died, he threatens the tenuous peace that has kept these two fragile families whole.

Inspiring and affecting, LaRose is a powerful exploration of loss, justice, and the reparation of the human heart, and an unforgettable, dazzling tour de force from one of America’s most distinguished literary masters.

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The storyline of LaRose is not a straightforward path. It is a long curvy road that weaves a complicated tale of family, Native American tradition, folklore, and mysticism. There are multiple narrators telling the story of LaRose, and the story is told in multiple time lines (and sometimes multiple dimensions as spirits teach important lessons to the current LaRose).

Unexpectedly, the author narrates the audio book beautifully. Her voice and cadence draw in the reader. I felt like a kindergartener enraptured by my teacher’s story time reading. That said, I did find the story structure made following the audiobook difficult at times. For example, it wasn’t until halfway through the book that I began to see the significance of the story of the first LaRose. Once I did however, the reoccurring theme of the guilty being followed by their mistakes/sins became apparent. Those scenes brought to mind the Russian classic, Crime and Punishment.

A tale with mulitple storylines in several time lines makes for many characters. From the first LaRose and the traders to Coochy, the parish priest and even the stray dog, all the characters add a rich dimension to the situation the current LaRose is in. The title character is a five-year-old boy, who is the fifth descendent of the first LaRose. All the LaRoses before him have been female. Once the present-day storyline premise has been introduced, Ms. Erdich takes her readers back to 1839 to meet the first LaRose. Intermittently through the current day story, each LaRose’s story is told. Ms. Erdrich also takes her readers to the not-so-distant past where the sins of LaRose’s parents are divulged, and it becomes apparent how those transgressions impact the present-day. Eventually Ms. Erdrich weaves together all the loose threads into one beautiful tapestry that tells the tale of LaRose.

In Larose, Ms. Erdrich explores the question of guilt and forgiveness over time, within a family and within a community. It frequently felt heavy and dark, but ultimately, LaRose delivers an uplifting and hopeful message.

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