LaRose

LaRoseLouise 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.

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18 Responses to LaRose

  1. Jenny says:

    I’ve been reading her books in order (slowly) and I’m up to Tales of Burning Love. I need to read another one — I always like and sometimes love her books.

    • Teresa says:

      Almost all of her books that I’ve read are later than that one, but they’re consistently good. Even my least favorite was worth reading.

  2. Brona says:

    I will finish this book today some time. I’ve really enjoyed it – my first Erdrich. Which one would you recommend I try next?

    I really like the Native American storyline & the moral, ethical, tribal dilemmas she threw up – if that helps you pick a book for me :-)

    • Teresa says:

      The Round House is my favorite, but The Painted Drum and Love Medicine delve more into issues specific to Indian life, so you might enjoy those more. But all of her books are about Native Americans and address concerns of their communities.

  3. Elle says:

    This is literally the very next book on my pile and I’m so excited for it – my first Erdrich, too.

  4. I’ve still not read anything by Louise Erdrich — just because her books aren’t the kind of contemporary fiction I tend to seek out? But LaRose sounds good, I always love reading about CULPABILITY, and so I’m hoping it can be my on-ramp to her as an author. (Do you think I’d like her?)

    • Teresa says:

      I find it hard to imagine NOT liking her, although some people don’t. But I do think you’d like this. She addresses a lot of important ideas without being preachy, just making you ache for the people dealing with them.

  5. I love the sound of this one and have never read Erdrich before. I plan on reading A Plague of Doves over the summer though.

    • Teresa says:

      A Plague of Doves is maybe my least favorite of the five books of hers that I’ve read, but it was still pretty good. Several of the chapters were previously published as short stories, and I wish I’d known that going in.

  6. aartichapati says:

    Erdrich is coming to Chicago for a talk at the end of this month or some time next month, I think. I would love to see her, maybe I will be able to read this book before then!

  7. Nicola says:

    I’m a big fan of Louise Erdrich so it was good to read your review. I read that LaRose was part of a ‘justice’ trilogy which includes The Round House (which I also loved) but I’m not sure if the third is to come or is one of her earlier novels.

    • Teresa says:

      I hadn’t heard that. Interesting. I just did a little googling, and I saw references to this one being third in a trilogy and mentions Plague of Doves as the first.

  8. Christy says:

    I really like the sounds of the plot – just the way that would affect characterization and everything sounds wonderful. I’m set on the Last Report of the Miracles at Little Horse though as my next book by Erdrich.

    • Teresa says:

      Last Report is one that’s been recommended to me many times, and I expect it will be my next Erdrich if another doesn’t fall into my path.

  9. David Best says:

    Last Report of the Miracles at Little Horse is one of my favourite books – I have no idea why, since it is very different from most of my reads, but it drew me in entirely. On the other hand, A Plague of Doves was so disappointing I haven’t read Erdrich since.

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