October 22, 2018

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Lovely LaRose

Erdrich's new novel returns to North Dakota Ojibwa reservation

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/5/2016 (884 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Arriving just four years after her heartbreaking masterpiece The Round House, LaRose is Louise Erdrich’s 16th novel.

In it, Erdrich returns to the setting of The Round House, a fictional Ojibwa reservation in North Dakota, but she shifts the time from the 1980s to the era of George W. Bush and 9/11. One character, Romeo Puyat, is as addicted to the news about Bush and his cronies as he is to the opiates he steals from hospital patients.

Most of the characters are new, but the enigmatic Father Travis makes a spectacular return from The Round House. Still the same hard-boiled ex-marine — dryly comic and deeply wounded — Father Travis now struggles with his loyalty to the Catholic Church and his attraction to women.

The main plot follows LaRose Iron, who is a little boy at the novel’s opening and whose father accidentally shoots LaRose’s best friend, Dusty Ravich, in a hunting accident that takes place two paragraphs into the novel.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/5/2016 (884 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Arriving just four years after her heartbreaking masterpiece The Round House, LaRose is Louise Erdrich’s 16th novel.

In it, Erdrich returns to the setting of The Round House, a fictional Ojibwa reservation in North Dakota, but she shifts the time from the 1980s to the era of George W. Bush and 9/11. One character, Romeo Puyat, is as addicted to the news about Bush and his cronies as he is to the opiates he steals from hospital patients.

Paul Emmel photo</p><p>Louise Erdrich skilfully weaves historical facts into her characters’ lives.</p>

Paul Emmel photo

Louise Erdrich skilfully weaves historical facts into her characters’ lives.

Most of the characters are new, but the enigmatic Father Travis makes a spectacular return from The Round House. Still the same hard-boiled ex-marine — dryly comic and deeply wounded — Father Travis now struggles with his loyalty to the Catholic Church and his attraction to women.

The main plot follows LaRose Iron, who is a little boy at the novel’s opening and whose father accidentally shoots LaRose’s best friend, Dusty Ravich, in a hunting accident that takes place two paragraphs into the novel.

LaRose finds himself given to Dusty’s family as part of an ancient Ojibwa justice ritual: a son for a son, the only recompense that his father believes can set things right in some way and that can mitigate the suicidal despair of Dusty’s parents.

Landreaux Iron is motivated not only by a traditional practice, but also by the fact that there is something unusually calming about LaRose, something connected to his name. "It was a name both innocent and powerful and had belonged to the family’s healers… in each generation, for over a hundred years."

Erdrich then begins the story of the first LaRose, a woman born in the 1830s, whose practice of Ojibwa customs and magic emerges in intricate, beautiful details.

As the novel’s chapters alternate between the past and the present of the two LaRoses, Erdrich skilfully narrates historical facts and experiences of colonization into her characters’ lives: from tuberculosis and residential schools to processed food and Type 2 diabetes.

But her main interest in this novel lies with how different people triumph over grief.

</p>

And while she captures the harrowing purpose of residential schools — the Indian boarding schools, as they are called in the U.S. — she also nods to complex variations in that history. She introduces Romeo Puyat, for instance, as someone whose life was saved at boarding school by teachers who told him he was college material.

Romeo is such a richly drawn villain that every time he makes an appearance, the novel’s suspense heats up. His anger with Landreaux Iron — the reasons for which Erdrich gradually discloses — becomes increasingly frightening because Romeo plots against him so methodically.

And yet the scenes in which Romeo and Father Travis faceoff are some of the novel’s most charming moments. At one point, Father Travis tells Romeo he could never stand between Romeo and Satan because "there is no space, nowhere to stand." A statement to which Romeo responds with delight: "Haha! No place to stand! Between me and the devil!"

Erdrich, Ojibwa herself, lives in Minnesota, where she also owns a bookstore. She writes so prolifically because she seems driven to recount and preserve the legends, customs, gods, histories and rituals of her people — all comprising a reality she works at understanding and at presenting on its own terms. In book after book, she patiently and carefully explores this reality from different angles, setting it against or in relation to a violent colonialism she also tries to grasp.

Dana Medoro teaches American literature at the University of Manitoba and hopes to see Louise Erdrich win the Nobel Prize for Literature one day.

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