BOOK REVIEW | LaRose by Louise Erdrich

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5/5 stars

From the publisher:
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 co conspirator 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.

My thoughts:
Let me start by saying that Louise Erdrich’s writing is beautiful; she is incredibly skilled and I absolutely love her style. I thought I was going to love LaRose, but it was just OK for me.

This is, more or less, the story of two families grieving the loss of their sons. During a routine hunt, Landreaux tragically kills Dusty, his neighbor’s son, and not the buck he was after. According to an old tradition, Landreaux and his wife Emmaline must give their son, LaRose, to their neighbors as retribution.

Our son will be your son now.

My oldest son turns five tomorrow, and it’s hard for me to imagine how a child this age would comprehend being sent to live with another family. From a mother’s point of view, I was interested in Nola’s struggle – she has lost her son, but in turn gained another. She is confused and suicidal as she walks though such an uncertain path, all the while doting on LaRose.

I enjoyed exploring the history of the LaRose name and the insights into Landreaux’s past, but found the book a bit of a slog to get through. I wanted to know Dusty more – I felt his loss through the character’s pain, but couldn’t process it personally since we never get to know him. This is such a great idea for a story, but I wanted more from LaRose’s point of view, and would have loved to go deeper into everyone’s pain.

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