Monday, June 27, 2016

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

The name LaRose is inscribed many times across the cover of this fine novel by Louise Erdrich. And we do meet a boy named LaRose shortly after the book begins. He is but five years old. He is an Ojibwa boy that walks between two worlds, just beginning to sense the spirit world. There have been other LaRoses in his family and their stories are deftly woven into the novel. The young LaRose we meet has amazing resilience. When his father Landreaux Iron, hunting for deer, accidentally shoots a boy named Dusty Ravich (LaRose's best friend), an inconceivable arrangement is made. Or perhaps you could call it an act of karmic justice: Landreaux and his wife Emmaline give LaRose to Dusty's family. Yes, LaRose is sad and misses his family, but eventually a compromise is made. His time, his love and preciousness, is divided between both families.

The Ravich family consists of Pete and Nora and their daughter Maggie. All come to love LaRose, but of course they still deeply grieve the loss of Dusty. Nora, who is actually a half sister to Emmaline, tries to hide the depth of her depression over the loss of her son. Although coming to love and cherish LaRose helps, she flirts with suicide. Pete and Landreaux used to be best buddies, and now of course, there is a tremendous riff. To get back to the Irons family, let me say that they have four other children, two girls and two boys (actually one is sort of a longtime foster child). These kids added much fresh air to what could have been a relentlessly dark novel. Two sisters play volleyball and do well in school, and they become closer to their cousin Maggie Ravich because both families share LaRose. The sons of the make their way in the world with confidence, all of the children giving considerable testament to the power of family love.

Many other characters that add depth and nuance to the novel, especially the short sketches of LaRose's ancestors, but most of all, at least for me -- the reservation priest, Father Travis, really comes alive. He hears everyone's sins and struggles with his own faith. And then there is a pivotal, heavily diabolical character named Romeo. Self-described scumbag and drug fiend Romeo holds more than one grudge against Landreaux. When Landreaux is not sent to jail for killing Dusty, Romeo plots against him.

I have barely sketched the complicated web of this rich novel. The book was full of tragedies and miracles, truly a wonder to me. I found myself thinking of a pressure cooker as the plot thickened. Would things blow sky high or would the pressure be released safely? The cook (if you will) of this story knows all. Her omniscience works well. Let me just say we are the hands of a master chef of literature, Louise Erdrich. May she live long and prosper, continuing to so adroitly chronicle the lives of native Americans.

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