LaRose by Louise Erdrich

An unemotional study of grieving…

🙂 🙂 😐

laroseAs he does every year, Landreaux is hunting deer on his land. In the evening light, he raises his gun, fires and misses the deer. But in a tragic accident, his bullet hits Dusty, the young son of his neighbour, who is sitting in a nearby tree, killing him. In an agony of remorse, Landreaux and his wife participate in a Native American ceremony, which leads them to decide that the only way to make restitution is to give their own young son, LaRose, to the grieving family. At first, Dusty’s mother Nola agrees to this arrangement only out of bitterness, to cause Landreaux and Emmeline to feel some of the grief and loss she herself is going through, but soon Nola comes to dote on LaRose, clinging to him as she struggles to get over the death of her son. LaRose is a name that has been passed down the generations, and as well as the present day story, the reader is taken back in time to learn of the earlier LaRoses and, through them, of some of the history of the Native American culture over the last few centuries.

Sounds great, and this was one of my most anticipated books of the summer, having heard so many good things about Louise Erdrich’s writing. Unfortunately, I found the writing of this one cold, lacking any emotional depth despite the subject matter, an exercise in telling rather than showing. There is an attempt to build a level of suspense by leaving it a little unclear as to how culpable Landreaux was for the death of Dusty. Was it simply an unfortunate accident, or had Landreaux, a recovering alcoholic, perhaps been high on medication he had stolen from some of the elderly clients he cared for? But I’m afraid this isn’t enough to lift the basic story. In reality, it’s simply a lengthy, monotone account of the grief process of all the people involved in the event – parents, siblings and the wider community.

The story of the original LaRose is more interesting, casting some light on the culture clash in the early days of European settlement of America. There is a good deal of Native American mysticism in these passages, which somehow works fine in the context of the earlier time period, but feels totally out of place when it’s carried forward into the modern day. I do realise that my own rational prejudices are getting in the way, but being asked to accept that the current LaRose has some kind of supernatural gift, inherited from his ancestors, of leaving his body to commune with the dead was too much for me to swallow, I fear.

Putting that aside, the insights into Native American culture past and present are the most interesting parts of the book. Erdrich doesn’t romanticise it – she gives us a picture of relative poverty, not just in economic terms but in aspiration; a society where alcoholism and drug-taking are a kind of escape. She shows how some customs have survived but others have been forgotten, or revived after a period of suppression. She touches on intermarriage and how that has affected the culture; on the boarding schools where Native American children were sent to be assimilated into the European American culture; on how differently Native Americans have been treated through the generations in terms of rights – education, healthcare, etc. She avoids polemics, thankfully, and draws no conclusions – she simply paints the picture and leaves the reader to consider it.

Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich

In the present day, however, which is the bulk of the book, we merely flick from person to person, seeing snapshots of their grief at different stages. The sections about the children are more interesting, too young at the time of the incident to feel Dusty’s loss in quite the same way as the adults, and coping more with the impact of it on their parents than on themselves. But the sections about the parents felt oddly bland, never inspiring in me any kind of real emotional reaction to what they were going through. There’s no real momentum, nothing we’re aiming towards except perhaps an end to grief and, in the end, it’s all tied up very neatly – too neatly. I often complain about books sagging in the middle – just for a change, I’m complaining that, though the middle third of this one was quite interesting, both the beginning and end sagged, and never inspired me to care about the characters. In truth, while it’s technically well written, my major response to it was a feeling of boredom and a desire to reach the end. And, when I did, I wasn’t convinced the journey had been worthwhile.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Little, Brown Book Group UK.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Book 10
Book 10

TBR Thursday 89…

Episode 89…

OK, it’s finally happened – the TBR has leapt over the 170 mark to an appalling 171! The only things I can say in my defence are tennis and politicians – the energy spent watching one and casting voodoo spells in the direction of the others has left little time to spare for reading.

Anyway…here are some of the ones that are crawling towards to the top of the heap…

Factual

EurekaCourtesy of the author. From John Grant, who also blogs about noir films as realthog over on Noirish, this book is about the lives of famous scientists and their contribution to science. Aimed at young adults, I reckon it should just about suit my level of scientific knowledge, though unfortunately not my age…

The Blurb says: Galileo, Einstein, Curie, Darwin, Hawking — we know the names, but how much do we really know about these people? Galileo gained notoriety from his battle with the Vatican over the question of heliocentrism, but did you know that he was also an accomplished lute player? And Darwin of course discovered the principle by which new species are formed, but his bold curiosity extended to the dinner table as well. (And how many people can say they’ve eaten an owl!) In Eureka! John Grant offers fifty vivid portraits of groundbreaking scientists, focusing not just on the ideas and breakthroughs that made them so important but also on their lives and their various… quirks.

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Fiction

laroseCourtesy of NetGalley. This is one of the books I’m most looking forward to as part of #20booksofsummer …

The Blurb says: North Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence—but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich. Horrified at what he’s done, the recovered alcoholic turns to an Ojibwe tribe tradition—the sweat lodge—for guidance, and finds a way forward. Following an ancient means of retribution, he and Emmaline will give LaRose to the grieving Peter and Nola. “Our son will be your son now,” they tell them.

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Crime

sergeant cluff stands firmFrom the British Library via MidasPR, this book and another in the series are being re-published over the next couple of months to celebrate the centenary of the author Gil North. Championed by Martin Edwards, editor of all the great classic crime anthologies the BL has produced recently, as well as being a pretty nifty crime writer himself, who has written an introduction for it.

The Blurb says: ‘He could feel it in the blackness, a difference in atmosphere, a sense of evil, of things hidden.’ Amy Snowden, in middle age, has long since settled into a lonely life in the Yorkshire town of Gunnarshaw, until – to her neighbours’ surprise – she suddenly marries a much younger man. Months later, Amy is found dead – apparently by her own hand – and her husband, Wright, has disappeared. Sergeant Caleb Cluff – silent, watchful, a man at home in the bleak moorland landscape of Gunnarshaw – must find the truth about the couple’s unlikely marriage, and solve the riddle of Amy’s death. This novel, originally published in 1960, is the first in the series of Sergeant Cluff detective stories that were televised in the 1960s but have long been neglected. This new edition is published in the centenary year of the author’s birth.

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Crime

oliver twistedCourtesy of NetGalley. Bill over at Bill’s Book Reviews headed me towards this series with his tempting reviews of the first couple. I intended to start at Book 1, but then Book 3 came out… I just don’t seem to have a handle on this reading in order thing! Another of my 20 Books of Summer.

The Blurb says: When Ivy Meadows lands a gig with the book-themed cruise line Get Lit!, she thinks she’s died and gone to Broadway. Not only has she snagged a starring role in a musical production of Oliver Twist, she’s making bank helping her PI uncle investigate a string of onboard thefts, all while sailing to Hawaii on the S.S. David Copperfield.

But Ivy is cruising for disaster. Her acting contract somehow skipped the part about aerial dancing forty feet above the stage, her uncle Bob is seriously sidetracked by a suspicious blonde, and—oh yeah—there’s a corpse in her closet. Forget catching crooks. Ivy’s going to have a Dickens of a time just surviving.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?