“We are chased by things done to us in this life…We are chased by what we do to others and then in turn what they do to us. We’re always looking behind us, or worried about what comes next. We only have this teeny moment. Oops, it’s gone.”
LaRose, by Louise Erdrich, is a story about how the big things and the little things change the directions of lives. When Landreaux, an Ojibwe Indian father of five shoots at a buck and accidentally kills his neighbor’s five year old son, Dusty, a series of life changing events occurs–some obvious and some not so obvious. Following an ancient Ojibwe Indian tradition, Landreaux and his wife, Emmaline, give their youngest child, LaRose, to Dusty’s grieving parents, Nola and Peter Ravich. Nola and Emmaline are half sisters and Nola and Peter have a daughter, Maggie. The families did not exactly get along before the shooting, but LaRose’s unexpected and welcome presence in The Ravich’s lives results in a collision of the two family’s worlds.
While the families are adjusting to this new normal, we meet Landreaux’s boyhood friend, Romeo, as he is siphoning gas out of Landreaux’s car. Romeo and Landreaux’s lives are intertwined in unexpected ways and as the gas siphoning would suggest, Romeo has fallen on hard times, which he blames on Landreaux. Romeo spends much of the book trying to track information that would ruin what is left of Landreaux’s life.
The name LaRose is a family name going back five generations in Emmaline’s family. Emmaline and Landreaux’s son is the fifth and each LaRose has been special in his or her own way. The first part of the book alternates between current day events and the events surrounding the life of the first member of Emmaline’s family to be known as LaRose, dating back to 1839. Through this alternating history we learn a little about some of the family lore and history.
The story is well written and has a certain appeal, but it attempts to take on too much. Romeo and Landreaux are both fighting alcohol and drug dependencies, there are issues between the Indian community and the community outside the reservation, there is a physically attractive priest suffering from postraumatic stress disorder, the planes hit the Towers, the Iraq war starts and one of the children enrolls in the National Guard. This is in addition to the normal issues which the story addresses that result from the tragic death of one so young, such as grief, complexity in family relationships, children coming into their own, guilt and sorrow.
At the same time Louise Erdrich approaches the story with humor. One of my favorite examples of her bemused approach to aging is the irreverent group of old women in the book who love to talk about sex and embarrass and torment the younger men and women. And there is not one, but two separate bodiless rolling heads, relentlessly pursuing and tormenting living full bodied humans.
All in all, it is a good enjoyable read, but it could have been more focused and the ending is bit too neat. The novel will be released in May and can be reserved at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking on http://encore.cuyahoga.lib.oh.us/iii/mobile/record/C__Rb11178525__SLarose__P0%2C3__Orightresult__X7?lang=eng&suite=mobile