Book review: LaRose

LaRose is a slowly developing tale of grief, growth, and retribution, with revenge on the minds of just about everybody.

Louise Erdrich

Corsair books, €18.99

THE most dramatic moment in the sprawling, cross- generational LaRose comes in its first two pages. 

Landreaux Iron, aiming a gun at the deer which he had kept track of all summer, instead shoots his neighbour’s son, Dusty. 

Said neighbour, Peter Ravich, is a friend — he was going to get a portion of the buck, as happened every year. 

Their wives, Emmaline and Nola, are half-sisters.

Dusty was best friends with Landreaux and Emmaline’s youngest child of four, LaRose. He hadn’t been drinking — it was an accident. Wasn’t it?

Louise Erdrich’s 15th novel, a vast tale of redemption, renewal, and a lust for revenge, is set in North Dakota around the turn of the century. 

It’s apt that the action takes place a short distance from Fargo — this is an engrossing, interweaving tale that wouldn’t be out of place on the series.

Landreaux, a carer, is cleared over the death of Dusty, but in a bid to make penance, he and Emmaline, members of the Ojibwe group of Native Americans, bring LaRose to Peter and Nola, simply stating: “Our son will be your son now.”

The troubled Father Travis Wozniak “had heard of these types of adoptions in years past, when disease of killings broke some families, left others whole. It was an old form of justice. 

It was a story, and stories got to him.”

(In her acknowledgements, Erdrich thanks her mother “who mentioned an Ojibwe family who allowed parents enduring the loss of a child to adopt their child — a contemporary act echoing an old form of justice”.) It’s a jarring move, both for the reader and the town locals.

LaRose is a child who has a vivid imagination, with Dusty’s spirit present as he plays. 

He helps the Ravich family deal with their pain, somewhat. 

His ‘new sister’ Maggie grows close to him; previously full of hatred — she practically dares LaRose to kill the dog that hangs around — she defends her brother from bullies in school, drawing wrath on herself in the process. 

And soon it is LaRose seeking revenge.

There are five LaRoses in the family, going back 100 years, the stories of whom are recounted throughout.

“In all of these LaRoses there was a tendency to fly above the earth.”

It’s the name of the family healers — and almost all the characters we meet are in need of help as they wallow in grief. 

Nola has tortured herself since the death of her only son; she and Peter are unable to have another. 

Sure, they have Maggie, but Nola feels like she’s “raised a monster who she hated with all the black oils of her heart but whom she also loved with a deadly confused despair”.

She contemplates suicide, testing Maggie’s slowly developing empathy. Peter’s rage envelops him slowly. 

How can a father ever deal with a man killing his only son, even if it was an accident? 

There are a plethora of characters who get sucked into the drama, and at times it gets a little muddled.

The section detailing Landreaux’s former friendship with the pitiful TV detective-loving Romeo Puyet — he “looked at things as a movie drama where revenge was justice, saw himself outside of himself, even heard the music, furtive or swelling” — acts as a foreshadowing of the ensuing pain and a clarification that this secondary character is one to whom we need to pay attention.

This is familiar territory for the award-winning Erdrich; her last novel The Round House also features a physical assault and a young protagonist growing up on a Native American reservation. 

LaRose is a slowly developing tale of grief, growth, and retribution, with revenge on the minds of just about everybody — but what if revenge was literally within one’s hands? 

Could you follow through with it?


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