Louise Erdrich has become one of my reliable authors, meaning that I can almost guarantee that I’ll get some pleasure out of anything of hers that I read. The Round House was one of my favorite books that I read last year, and although I didn’t love her newest novel quite as much, it may just end up on my best of list this year.
The novel focuses on two families, linked by their shared son, LaRose. Five years old in 1999 when the book begins, LaRose was born to Landreaux and Emmeline Iron. His best friend, Dusty, is the son of their neighbors, Peter and Nola Ravitch. These two families, previously linked by Nola and Emmeline relationship as half-sisters, become further bound together when Landreaux accidentally shoots and kills young Dusty Ravitch.
Beset by grief and guilt, Landreaux and Emmeline agree that Peter and Nola should have their son, following the old ways. The Ravitches agree, and LaRose’s presence gives them hope and comfort. LaRose, however, misses his birth family, and the two sets of parents agree that he should divide his time between the two homes. For years, the only thing the two families share is LaRose. He loves and is loved by both families and is at home in both the boisterous Iron home, full of older siblings, and the quieter Ravtich house, where he bonds with his older sister, Maggie.
As is typical of an Erdrich novel, the book’s scope reaches out to the wider community, both past and present. LaRose is a family name, and we meet the women who bore the name before this single boy was given it. The LaRoses of the past seemed to have special strength and insight, and the young LaRose appears to as well, but without the obnoxious precociousness that sometimes appears among fictional children who are wise beyond their years.
One of my favorite storylines involved Maggie’s growing confidence. After being sexually assaulted by a group of boys at her school, Maggie withdraws into herself, initially telling no one but LaRose what happened. But she looks for a way out, and the confident girls from the Iron family help her find it. Connections and community matter. As do secrets. Many of the book’s characters harbor secret resentments or lusts or addictions, although not all of these secrets are as hidden as their bearers believe. Bringing those secrets out into the open seems to help with healing.
And healing, more than anything, is perhaps what this book is about. It’s ultimately a very hopeful book, about people finding strength and joy even after the worst of calamities. But that hope is not without its shadow. There’s the shadow of past injustice, residing in the stories of Indians forced to adopt white ways in boarding schools of prior generations. And there’s the shadow of future pain, as a young man finds hope in joining the National Guard at a time when joining the Guard did not (yet) necessarily mean getting shipped off to war. Those shadows keep the book grounded in reality without taking away from the joy to be found in the happy moments when people are able to find happiness together.
I received an electronic review copy of LaRose from the publisher via Edelweiss.