63 pages 2 hours read

Louise Erdrich

LaRose

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2016

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Published in 2016 and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, LaRose is a work of fiction written by author Louise Erdrich, an enrolled member of the Ojibwe people. The novel takes place on the land in and around an Ojibwe North Dakota reservation, the same physical setting as Erdrich’s previous award-winning novel The Round House. However, LaRose’s characters and time period differ from her previous book. LaRose takes place primarily during the years surrounding 9/11 and Bush’s War on Terror. The novel represents an accumulation of a specific family’s history, one that passes down the name LaRose to a member of each generation. The novel’s narrative therefore spans four generations of LaRoses interspersed within the main narrative arc of the story.

 

The novel primarily concerns the aftermath of a tragic hunting accident, in which Landreaux Iron shoots and kills Dusty Ravich, the child of his neighbor and best friend. In order to atone for his action, Landreaux gives his own child and Dusty’s best friend, LaRose Iron, to Dusty’s family to raise as their son. The interconnectivity of the two families complicates this arrangement, as Dusty’s mother, Nola Ravich, is the half-sister of Landreaux’s wife, Emmaline Iron. As time passes, Emmaline decides she cannot live with the loss of her own son and so LaRose is shared between the two families, splitting his time. The loss of Dusty triggers suicidal tendencies in Nola, which the children in both households ultimately prevent. The situation with LaRose is further complicated by three factors: the desire of Landreaux’s childhood friend-turned-drug addict, Romeo Puyat, to seek revenge on Landreaux for crippling Romeo when they were younger; Emmaline’s affair with the reservation priest, Father Travis; and Maggie Ravich’s sexual assault by a group of white teenagers. Throughout the novel, LaRose’s presence acts as a palliative measure, healing some of these wounds by connecting the spirit world to that of the still-living characters.

 

The author divides the novel into five sections that do not occur in chronological order. Parts 1, 2, and 4 each span a specific duration, although the time period of the other two sections are not indicated. This alternating adherence to and denial of Western concepts of chronology reflects the push and pull between the modern and traditional that arises within the novel. Many of the novel’s characters constantly feel conflicted by the confluence of their identities both as Ojibwe and as American, essentially straddling these two worlds.

 

The novel is narrated by a third-person omniscient narrator who knows characters’ thoughts and beliefs. The narrator exists as an all-seeing eye that follows many of the characters as they interact with each other throughout the community, often switching focus within a section or an event itself. As the novel progresses, the cuts between characters’ individual points of view become quicker as does the time frame within which these events occur. The author uses this perspective-shifting mechanism to demonstrate the interconnectivity of the characters and all of the story’s threads. The characters develop a communal identity that represents more than just a community; they become an extended family whose lives entangle in almost unimaginable ways. The book therefore presents an interrelated series of stories that attempts to explain this interconnectivity. The novel places more importance on the experiences of the group over the experiences of an individual, identifying community and family as the mechanism by which people—especially those suffering historical trauma and oppression—can heal. 

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