by Louise Erdrich
HarperCollins | May 2016
Paperback: 384 pages
Genre: General Fiction
ARC: EDELWEISS in exchange for an unbiased review.
I can’t think of another book that I picked up, put down and re-read from the beginning as many times as I did with LaRose. In the end I didn’t give up.
I could hear my Algonquin Grandmother Delina telling me, “Pay attention! Slow down. There’s a lot to learn here about the clash of native and European cultures and religions.”
The Irons and Raviches live on either side of the Ojibwa reservation border. Landreaux Iron and Dusty’s father, Peter had forged a respectful friendship in spite of their cultural differences. Their wives, Emmaline Iron and her half-sister Nora Ravich, however, harbor a deep seated sibling rift that has roots deep in the past. The two sisters became pregnant at the same time and their two sons, Dusty and LaRose, enjoy the purity of childhood friendship unaware of the tenuous bonds between the two families.
Landreaux Iron, an Ojibwa native, is out hunting venison for his family. The novel opens with an introduction to Landreaux and provides clues to everything that happens for the remainder of the book.
Landreaux was a devout Catholic who also followed traditional ways, a man who would kill a deer, thank one god in English, and put down tobacco for another god in Ojibwe.
The buck turned…giving Landreaux a perfect shot… there had been a blur the moment he squeezed the trigger. Only when he walked forward to investigate…did he understand that he had killed his neighbor’s son. He dropped his rifle and ran through the woods to the Ravich house…Landreaux [tried] to utter [Dusty’s] name. Nola had just checked, found [5-year old Dusty] gone, and was coming out to search for him when she heard the shot.
This tragedy on the border of the Ojibwe reservation in 1999 rips open the hearts and minds of both families. As each person struggles to grieve the loss of this small child, they find themselves facing much more than the loss of Dusty. Mired in their grief, they each scramble for relief from the pain. The Raviches seek justice and the Irons seek a reprieve from the unremitting remorse and self-recrimination. Pathways to deep seated and long buried person trials are reopened in everyone and threaten to destroy what remains of their self-control and possibly their own survivals.
The shift in the story following the immediate aftermath of the tragedy threw me for a loop until I followed Grandma Delina’s advice to stop questioning things. I discovered that LaRose, the name, not merely LaRose the child, had been significant for generations and “was a name both innocent and powerful, and had belonged to the family’s healers.” Erdrich takes the reader back through time to back-light the harshness of life in colonial times and the origin of the name LaRose.
Landreaux, after spending time in his sweat lodge and fasting, determines there is only one thing he can do to make things right with the Raviches. Following old Ojibwe tradition, he gives his favored son, a child that has always seemed to be on earth for a purpose, to the Raviches to replace Dusty.
Through the ensuing drama of this decisive action, an old enemy threatens Landreaux’s future, the parish priest struggles to serve his flock, the remaining characters rise and fall through tough times before reaching an unexpected but in my opinion rather unbelievable yet at the same time satisfactory conclusion. Things just felt wrapped up too quickly.
In the end I found it hard to rate the book. There were distractions that I thought muddy things such as Peter’s obsession with the end of the world at midnight on Dec 31, 1999. I wasn’t sure Emmaline’s and Father Travis’ tryst was necessary. Nola’s misplaced anger directed at her daughter, Maggie, was hard reading.
It was a solid read. Fans of Erdrich’s will like the book very much.