LaRose, by Louise Erdrich
As hooks go, I found this one irresistible: when a man accidentally shoots and kills a friend’s child in a hunting accident, he follows his Native American traditions and offers up his own son, LaRose, to replace him. The book supposedly deals with the fallout from both young Dusty’s death, and from LaRose’s separation from his family.
It does do both of those things, and to that it adds to that a strong seam of magical realism as it explores LaRose’s ancestry and his powers of communicating with the dead, AND a compelling and shocking personal history of the enforced assimilation of Native American children through harsh boarding schools.
But the strange thing about this book is that despite the dramatic premise, the dark, magical elements, and the shocking historical context, it is the everyday humanity of its beautifully drawn cast of characters that is its main strength and lasting impression. The unconventional and disparate effects of grief on Dusty’s mother, father and sister. The unique and delightful sibling bond between La Rose’s teenage sisters Snow and Josette. The delicate relationship between a boy and his estranged father. And the slow stagnation of good relationships.
So much is covered in this book, and all in a complex, detailed, solid and satisfying way. And at it’s core is the human ability to help or to harm - both so easily and unintentionally, and both with the potential for huge consequences.
Published: 10th May 2016, Little, Brown Book Group UK