After finishing Louise Erdrich’s novel LaRose, I had to wait for my tears to clear before I could begin writing about it. At the core of the story are two entwined families. Landreaux, the Ojibwe father of one family, accidentally shoots and kills the other family’s 5-year-old boy. As an act of atonement, following an ancient tribal practice, the anguished Landreaux and his wife give their own beloved child to the bereaved parents, saying, “Our son will be your son now.” Much of the story consists in what this attempt at retribution does to both families.
Spinning out from this core are a multitude of other dramas, spanning several generations: Grievous harms are done, sometimes avenged, occasionally righted, always suffered. Under the dramas is a bedrock of community and attenuated family ties and the kind of unavoidable intimacy that comes with them.
I’m generally put off by talk of the supernatural, and LaRose, like other stories by Erdrich, has more than a soupcon of it. But Erdrich’s avenging spirits and other ghosts seem almost grounded by the gritty details and poetic lists that also characterize her work.
It was the bittersweet celebration at the story’s end that opened my spigots. The community comes together at a huge feast of stewed and roasted meat, a case of past-its-expiration-date barbecue sauce, fry breads, and decoratively iced sheet cakes, all displayed on tables covered with bedsheets. Generosity abounds. Wounds are healed, or at least salved, and redemption is found. But even as love and hope blossom in this rich soil, the seeds of more heartbreak are sprouting.