National Book Award winner Louise Erdrich makes a horrible incident more tragic in her latest novel of Native American life – LaRose. An Ojibwe man is out hunting for deer and accidentally shoots and kills his best friend’s 5-year-old son, Dusty. Erdrich creates the inconceivable – trading the hunter’s young son, LaRose, for the dead boy he shot.
The hunter has a 5-year-old son of his own; in keeping with the tribe’s tradition, 5-year-old LaRose goes to live with Dusty’s family. Although framed as a traditional old-world way of compensating for loss, the action is jarring and incredible. Nonetheless, it creates a compelling story.
I tried reading Erdrich’s award winning The Round House but never made it through. Determined this time to discover why Erdrich is so revered as a writer, I read on but it wasn’t easy. Her language is plain; her sentences choppy. The story jumps around, hard to follow. But Erdrich conjures up real Native American characters who take what they can from the white man’s world while preserving their heritage.
In LaRose, the two families struggle through a series of missteps to find forgiveness and justice, and in the end decide to share the little boy, LaRose, and muddle through all the difficulties associated with passing him back and forth. The story is more about coping than forgiveness: scenes of old women in a nursing home managing their pain, adult men straddling loyalty to the reservation and the white man’s country, saintly LaRose trying to keep peace between his adopted mother and his real mother; the mothers in pain and denial.
I respect reviewer Mary Gordon’s assessment of the author in the New York Times:
“Perhaps the most important of Erdrich’s achievements is her mastery of complex forms. Her novels are multivocal, and she uses this multiplicity to build a nest, capacious, sturdy and resplendent, for her tales of Indians, living and dead, of the burden and power of their heritage, the challenge and comedy of the present’s harsh demands.”
But I probably will not read another of Erdrich’s novels.