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Louise Erdrich

Late summer in North Dakota, 1999: Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence but only when he staggers closer does he realise he has killed his neighbour’s son.

Dusty Ravich, the deceased boy, was best friends with Landreaux’s five-year-old son, LaRose. The two families have been close for years and their children played together despite going to different schools. Landreaux is horrified at what he’s done; fighting off his longstanding alcoholism, he ensconces himself in a sweat lodge and prays for guidance. And there he discovers an old way of delivering justice for the wrong he’s done. The next day he and his wife Emmaline deliver LaRose to the bereaved Ravich parents. Standing on the threshold of the Ravich home, they say, ‘Our son will be your son now’.

LaRose is quickly absorbed into his new family. Gradually he’s allowed visits with his birth family, whose grief for the son and brother they gave away mirrors that of the Raviches. The years pass and LaRose becomes the linchpin that links both families. As the Irons and the Raviches grow ever more entwined, their pain begins to subside. But when a man who nurses a grudge against Landreaux fixates on the idea that there was a cover-up the day Landreaux killed Dusty - and decides to expose this secret - he threatens the fragile peace between the two families…


I earmarked Louise Erdrich’s brilliant LaRose as ‘must reread’ about fifty pages in; I’ve since granted it ‘give-this-copy-to-a-friend-and-buy-yourself-another-copy’ status. I want to get it into the hands of as many people as I possibly can.

Louise Erdrich was awarded the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction in 2014, putting her in the company of Phillip Roth, Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison, and E. L. Doctorow. Erdrich’s The Round House won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2014. Her 2009 novel The Plague of Doves was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Erdrich is one of very few Native American writers giving voice to a community which is generally not presented on the page. Erdrich is a legend; LaRose is the result of a literary legend writing at the top of their game.

Like most of her previous novels, LaRose is set on an unnamed fictional Indian reservation in North Dakota. This fictional universe – the setting of multiple narratives over a long career – has been compared to Marquez’s Macondo or Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County. Like these writers, Erdrich has the capacity to turn traumatic experience into beautiful literary magic.

The action in LaRose begins as Y2K approaches, and centres around two families, two houses, on neighbouring properties. The book opens with the accidental shooting and killing of the son of one house by Landreaux, the father of the other house. To fix what’s been done, Landreaux delivers his own son, LaRose, to the other house, saying ‘Our son will be your son now.’ But this act only opens a door into this fictional world, peopled by complex and complicated and strange and troubled and beautiful characters. This book is about intergenerational trauma, history, justice, love, and magic, and the power and resilience of the human heart.

Ed Moreno works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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