I’ve been a Louise Erdrich fan ever since reading her short story “Red Convertible” for a class in college several years ago. I later discovered that the story was actually a chapter from one of her novels, and though I was too busy with school that semester to read any more of her work, the first break I got, I read the original novel. Ever since then, I’ve tried to keep up with her work because I enjoyed her realistic, three-dimensional characters; her lyrical writing style; and her depictions of contemporary Native American life interwoven with stories from the past.
Her latest book–LaRose–plays to those strengths as Erdrich crafts an ultimately hopeful book out of what could have been an incredibly depressing premise: Landreaux Iron accidentally kills his neighbor’s and best friend’s young son, and as a means of atonement, he follows an ancient Ojibwe custom of offering the grieving family his own son LaRose, who is approximately the same age, to raise as their own. LaRose follows both members of both families as they adjust and eventually start to heal, and it also traces the family history of LaRose. Since the early 19th century, there has always been a LaRose in the family, and the novel tells all of their stories.
As I mentioned earlier, this book easily could have been a really grim read, but it’s not-it manages to be bittersweet and heartwarming without being cloying or sentimental. In fact, at times, it is even absurdly funny.
My only qualm (and it is a pretty minor one) is for most of the book I didn’t really see the point of the main antagonist character. I thought the unusual premise of the story–two families bound together in tragedy–provided enough tension and dramatic potential, so I thought the presence of a more traditional villainous character was out-of-place simply because it seemed too predictable in contrast with the rest of the book. After I got to the end, I understood his purpose better, especially since Erdrich fleshed him out with a rather interesting and thematically-relevant backstory by then. However, I still thought the novel would stand well on its own unique premise and its exploration of grief recovery, family identity, and community without him. (I’d be interested in comparing notes in the comments on this point with anyone else who read the book.)
If you’re a Louise Erdrich fan, you need to get yourself a copy of LaRose as soon as possible! And if you’ve never read her before, this book would serve as a worthy introduction to her writing.
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Have you read LaRose? Do you like Louise Erdrich’s writing? Which writers have you counting the days to their next release? Tell us all about it in the comments!