LaRose: A Novel by Louise Erdrich (New York: Harper, 2016. 384 pp)
Louise Erdrich lives with her family in Minnesota and is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore. She is also the bestselling author of many critically acclaimed novels for adults, including the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves and the National Book Award finalist The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse. She is also the author of the picture book Grandmother’s Pigeon, illustrated by Jim LaMarche.
Context plays an important role in the consumption of art. Outside of one-off art installations or performances, a reaction to any specific art form may transform over the years. NeverEnding Story played differently in my childhood than it did in my twenties. The comedic stylings of mid-nineties Saturday Night Live haven’t aged well.
Things change; or, more accurately, your perceptions of things change.
My current context submits decidedly to the definitions of father. With a two-year-old boy, much of my headspace surrounds his general well-being. Have I fed him sufficiently? Is he properly clothed? Have I taken enough precaution to ensure he doesn’t crack his head open in our new home?
But the thoughts dive deeper in the hierarchy of needs. Is he happy? Is he emotionally stable? Does he feel loved and protected? How will I navigate his fears to help conquer the dragons that will appear in his life?
Given this context, LaRose by Louise Erdrich packs a punch.
The Heart of It
The high level narrative cuts to the heart of family and fatherhood.
Landreaux, a devoted family man, hunts deer on his tribal land. One mistaken shot later, the neighbor’s young son lies dead.
“Landreaux took the shot with confidence. When the buck popped away he realized he’d hit something else—there had been a blur the moment he squeezed the trigger. Only when he walked forward to investigate and looked down did he understand that he had killed his neighbor’s son” (4).
After intense meditations and multi-generational family traditions, Landreaux decides to gift his youngest son, LaRose, to the neighbors as reparation for his sin.
This ancient custom enacts a series of events that intertwine the two families at a deep level for the years to come as well as traces back the heritage of LaRose and the family for generations before.
Orbiting around this unusual decision, family and community takes new meaning. LaRose’s new mother, Nola, begins to find meaning. His birth mother, Emmaline, struggles with the ramifications of such a decision, even if she sees the special power LaRose holds on those around him.
Depth of Meaning
Within the depths of relation, context becomes a major connection point. The identity of Larose—his essence more specifically—influences his surroundings. The way people operate becomes altered based on building relationship. Meaning, then, possesses depth. Fatherhood is more than pouring a bowl of cereal for my son; fatherhood requires building an emotional toolkit my son can use to be a well-rounded, empathetic human being.
Louisie Erdrich writes with emotional precision and gorgeous prose; her characters jump off the page.
For this reason, LaRose is well recommended.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5