Where the reservation boundary invisibly bisected a stand of deep brush--chokecherry, popple, stunted oak--Landreaux waited. ~ Opening of LaRose
LaRose by Louise Erdrich
Fiction; 372 pgs
In a split second, everything can change. Landreaux Irons had been aiming for the deer when he pulled the trigger. Instead, he shot the five year old son (Dusty) of his best friend and neighbor. In this heart-wrenching novel about two families filled with grief, Louise Erdrich explores loss, justice and forgiveness.
Erdrich's writing is beautiful, sweeping me up into her story set at the turn of the twenty-first century in North Dakota. Turning to Ojibwe tribe tradition, Landreaux offers his own five year old son, LaRose, to the Ravich family, to atone for his taking the life of their only son. The grieving father, Peter Ravich, wants to say no, but his wife, drowning in her own loss, accepts. To be in the shoes of either mother was heartbreaking. I cannot even imagine the pain Nola was experiencing, to lose her son to such a senseless death, and then for Emmaline to give up her beloved son to her estranged step-sister.
It is through this tragedy and this act of atonement that the two families become even more closely tied. My heart ached for LaRose, pushed away by his own family and sent to live with a family deep in grief. I felt for Maggie, Dusty's sister, who was put in such a difficult situation--not only grieving the loss of her brother, but to be a brother to LaRose--and to hold up her mother who was falling apart in every direction. Maggie's recklessness scared me. She was so lost. LaRose grounded her in a way as he did everyone. He gave Nola purpose and Peter hope that perhaps their family would be okay.
Landreaux, a recovering drug and alcohol addict, feels so much guilt over what he's done. His wife suffers in her own way. As to their children. I really liked LaRose's sisters. Through it all, even as the sadness threatened to overcome everyone, they still managed to see the light.
Outside but intertwined in the story of these two families is that of Father Travis who seems lost in his own way and yet a significant support for the families and Romeo who holds a childhood grudge against Landreaux and only wants to ruin the man's life the way Landreaux ruined his. There is also the story of the first LaRose, which is shared at intervals, through flashbacks, in the novel, connecting the past with the present, tradition with the new. LaRose is a name that runs in Emmaline's family and is highly regarded.
This novel could easily have been about revenge, and yet the focus is more on the characters finding peace within themselves and with each other. There is so much anger and sadness. And yet, as time passes, the families begin to heal. Their shared love and bond with LaRose help bring about forgiveness, both of others and themselves.
By the time I finished the last page of Erdrich's novel, I had tears in my eyes. What a beautiful novel. Tragedy turned to hope. I still worry about Maggie though.
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