"LaRose" (Harper), by Louise Erdrich
An accidental fatal shooting of a 5-year-old boy near the boundary of an Indian reservation in North Dakota opens Louise Erdrich's new novel, detonating a story of revenge, sacrifice and restitution.
While stalking a buck, Landreaux Iron, an Ojibwe man, shoots and kills his neighbors' son in a moment of inattention. Landreaux, a recovering alcoholic, turns to both tribal traditions and the Catholic faith to hold back a devastating shame that now threatens his stability. He can't rewind time, but he makes an agonizing attempt at amends by giving the dead boy's parents his own 5-year-old son, LaRose.
The third novel in a trilogy, "LaRose" resumes an exploration of the blurred bloodlines of people living in and around Ojibwe tribal land and the nearby fictional town of Pluto. Characters return from Erdrich's "The Plague of Doves" and "The Round House," including the war-scarred Father Travis, who in his reservation work "had seen how some people would try their best but the worst would still happen."
Dealing with such unfairness has been the trilogy's theme. "The Plague of Doves" examined the long shadow of past injustices. "The Round House" uncovered the tricky nature of revenge. In "LaRose," Erdrich shows how difficult it can be to atone.
Erdrich's characters have interwoven family trees. Emmaline, Landreaux's wife, is half-sister to Nola, the mother of the dead boy, Dusty. Emmaline is a member of the tribe; Nola is not. Emmaline agrees to the unusual substitution of LaRose for Dusty, hoping it will save both families from succumbing to grief. She and Landreaux know there is something special about their son that will allow him to live in both worlds.
Generations of family healers have shared the name LaRose, and the 5-year-old boy, an adorable charmer, can see beyond death and move across invisible bridges in time. Nola, for her part, finds comfort in LaRose, at first because she knows how much it hurts Emmaline and Landreaux to give him up. But when she finds him playing alone with his action figures, talking to her dead son as if he were playing alongside, Nola begins to see beyond death, too.
Set during the run-up to the Iraq War, the book investigates substitutions, grudges and missteps — sometimes with humor. A character named Romeo nurses a Shakespearean resentment toward Landreaux because of an incident during their childhoods. Romeo keeps track of the news on CNN — "Bush reminded him of all the things he hated worst about himself" — but the march toward war on TV does little to teach him about avoiding his own revenge-driven morass.
A laugh-out-loud scene involves Romeo stealing prescription drugs from the lewd-talking tribal women he visits at the Elders Lodge. They are onto him and exact their own revenge. Romeo mostly provides comic relief, but his story line grows in importance as the book's climax approaches. It's a satisfying ending, while also suggesting Erdrich may return to these characters again.
Let's hope she does.