Louise Erdrich’s new novel, LaRose, begins with the elemental gravitas of an ancient story: One day while hunting, a man accidentally kills his neighbor’s 5-year-old son. Such a canyon of grief triggers the kind of emotional vertigo that would make anyone recoil. But you can lean on Erdrich, who has been bringing her healing insight to devastating tragedies for more than 30 years...The recurring miracle of Erdrich’s fiction is that nothing feels miraculous in her novels. She gently insists that there are abiding spirits in this land and alternative ways of living and forgiving that have somehow survived the West’s best efforts to snuff them out.
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. Woven into the specificity of these narratives is Erdrich’s determination to speak of the most pressing human questions...The spongy sections of LaRose happen when Erdrich’s characters seem too good to be true, such as saintlike LaRose and his beautiful, athletic adopted teenage sisters. Much more engaging is their other sister, troubled and troubling Maggie, and their mother, Nola, who compulsively bakes elaborate cakes to assuage LaRose’s sorrow at being ripped from his home, cakes that the children stop eating.
You’re going to want to take your time with this book, so lavish in its generational scope, its fierce torrent of wrongs and its luxurious heart. Anyway, you may have no choice, as you fall under the spell of a master investigating invisible boundaries and perpetual bisectings...Erdrich writes the enspirited and the visible, traveling that bisecting line that separates the present from the past. Revenge can live alongside honor, grace with trauma. She mingles the enduring pain with humor, ceremony, ritual, legacy, reparations both real and false, and so much love, blending ceaselessly until no separate parts remain but one beautiful novel.
The slow story, full of alcoholism, suicidal nightmares, long-held vendettas and endless shades of guilt, rivals Hardy for gothic bleakness (the primal schism at the outset brings to mind The Mayor of Casterbridge). It feels like something of a capstone to Ms. Erdrich’s recent gray period. Her choral-voiced early books, such as the school syllabus staple Love Medicine (1984), juggled tragedy and comedy together. LaRose offers a unified vision of human suffering, which, however compelling, allows little space for life’s other emotions.
In the course of 13 novels and numerous short stories, [Erdrich] has laid out one of the most arresting visions of America in one of its most neglected corners, a tableaux on par with Faulkner, a place both perilous and haunted, cursed and blessed. LaRose is no exception...The rewards of LaRose lie in the quick unraveling and the slow reconstruction of these lives to a moment when animosities resolve, like shards of glass in a kaleidoscope, into clarity and understanding. While the ending may seem formulaic — a gathering of the young and old, the living and the dead — it is a benediction on the searing forces that preceded it. Told with constraint and conviction, the conclusion of LaRose is its own balm, a peace not easily won but won nonetheless.
LaRose is excellent. It is heartbreaking; it is nuanced; the prose is as strong and stark as the wintry western landscape it describes. The story is both simple and incredibly complex ... Erdrich has tapped into contemporary American culture, from the disappearance of the middle class, to the senseless deaths of children by gunfire, and to the way a personal trauma can reverberate through a community for generations.
Erdrich suffuses the book with her particular sort of magic—an ability to treat each character with singular care, weaving their separate journeys flawlessly throughout the larger narrative, and making each person’s pain feel achingly real. All the while, she adds new depth to timeless concepts of revenge, culture, and family.
When, a few years ago, researchers at the New School in New York City conducted a study showing that reading literary fiction increases empathy, The Round House was one of the books they gave their subjects. It was hardly a startling pick, or outcome, because empathy is the guiding force in Erdrich’s writing — and so it is in this sad, wise, funny novel, in which the author takes the native storytelling tradition that informs her work and remakes it for the modern world, stitching its tattered remnants into a vibrant living fabric.
...a novel so steeped in life and wonder and joy and sorrow that you may be tempted to call it Erdrich’s best. To be fair, each new novel she writes could conceivably earn that title. Still, LaRose offers a compelling argument.
Many novels circle around an exceptional incident or unspeakable tragedy, but what sets Erdrich’s writing apart is the way her characters become real people — not just stoic or hysterical actors in a tragedy ... The way Erdrich orchestrates the many parts of this story — the history, culture and Ojibwe beliefs coming to bear on the tragic situation affecting two families — is, as always, dazzling. Erdrich herself is a healer, a storyteller who can examine a collection of individuals, scarred and fragmented by the circumstances of their lives, and piece together a resonant wholeness.
LaRose is told with aching understanding by Erdrich, who has great affection for her characters. This timeless 15th novel stands as one of Erdrich’s best: comprehending and comprehensive, full of cascading, resonant details punctuated with spiky humor.
Instead of sticking closely with these [main] events, however, Erdrich increasingly piles on peripheral characters and incidents, expanding the novel’s scope at the expense of digging deeper into its central story. Her storytelling instincts, so fine and sharp in her short fiction, succumb to sprawl. To be sure, there are some fine moments in LaRose. The book nails the essence of Nola’s grief for her dead son ... Too many passages, though, seem like filler...By its end, LaRose feels more scattered than symphonic.
The novel follows a series of simple and solemn vignettes that cut across families and time to a rich tangle of emotions and grief. It might feel confusing to hold all the different epochs and five different LaRoses in mind, but Erdrich pushes the reader to let go of any rigid structure and to feel the entirety of the history and the action as her characters do: with a deep, concurrent, simultaneity.
At the novel’s heart is the extraordinary little boy who has enough love to bridge both families and not crack under the weight of the peacemaking role he was thrust into as a kindergartner ... It’s not necessary to have read The Round House or The Plague of Doves to be awed by Erdrich’s expert weaving of a family saga. But those who have will recognize familiar faces, such as Father Travis, the veteran turned priest who exorcises his PTSD with compulsive exercise and trawls dive bars for lost souls.
LaRose fits like a carefully cut quilt piece into the world of Erdrich's fiction...[which] is woven from some of the darkest, bloodiest threads of the history of the collision of indigenous and European cultures — and from the bright beauty of the bonds of tradition, family and friendship that the survivors share.
Erdrich is at her best when she weaves together stories from the past and present, illuminating the connections between generations, and sometimes between the spirit and corporeal worlds. And in this novel she does just that—not only with the generations of LaRoses but with other characters as well...In addition to constructing an intricate plot full of loss and redemption, and characters who embody three complex dimensions (and sometimes more), Erdrich’s evocative writing transports the reader further, making the ordinary extraordinary.