Thursday, October 17, 2019
Published May 2016 by HarperCollins Publishers
Source: purchased for my Nook
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 coconspirator 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.
I had no idea, going into this book, that it was part of a trilogy. As it turns out, I’ve read the other two books, The Plague of Doves and The Round House. But this never felt like the final chapter in a trilogy (although there are characters that have carried over, it is not essential to know their prior stories). The trilogy is less about specific people and more about the lives of the Ojibwe people who live in North Dakota. Each of the books has given me a wealth of interesting characters and plenty to think about. As much as I really enjoyed The Round House, I think LaRose impressed me even more.
It’s a book that takes readers on a journey into the past to try to explain the present, an idea that is more of a key to all of our lives that we generally acknowledge. Every one of us is, in some way, who we are because of our ancestors. The Native Americans, it seems, are just infinitely better at recognizing and honoring their ancestors.
Young LaRose Iron is not the first LaRose in his family; there were four before him, including his grandmother. In looking back at those women, we learn much about the ways of Native Americans when the Europeans first began to settle this continent and the mystical beliefs they held, beliefs their descendants struggle to hold onto. We see how the Europeans worked to try to annihilate the Native American way of life and how that system continues to impact them today. All of that is a bigger picture, set up by Erdrich to help us understand what is happening to these families.
I’m writing this review before my book club meets to discuss this book. I’m looking forward for what those ladies have to say about the characters in this book and its many themes. What do they make of Nola’s grief, which just keeps spinning deeper, despite having been given LaRose? Who are the “bad” guys in the novel? What must it be like to live together with the descendants of the people who conquered your people and who continue to keep their foot on the throat of your people? What of the themes of revenge (which so many here are trying to exact), motherhood, family, addiction, heritage, and forgiveness? And what role does food play in the book? Until I got to a party at the end of the book, it hadn’t occurred to me how much food had been talked about in this book. When it did, I had to stop and think about where Erdrich had included food and why.
This is review feels rambly and disjointed as I reread it but I’m not sure how much more cohesive it would be if I took longer to put together my thoughts. Erdrich has me thinking in so many different directions. I have a feeling this book will stay with me for some time.