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In sort of an “equel” (part prequel, part sequel, only different characters) to THE ROUND HOUSE, Pulitzer Prize finalist Louise Erdrich weaves a complex tapestry of retribution and acceptance set amidst looming Y2K fears during late 1999.

Since 1839, “there had always been a LaRose” in each generation, only they were female forbears of Emmaline Peace-Iron. She perpetuates the tradition by bestowing that name upon her final child, her son. “It was a name both innocent and powerful, and had belonged to the family’s healers.”

"Ever the master of emotions, Erdrich...incorporates elements of guilt, justice and atonement."

This generational work of literary fiction hosts complex characters. Emmaline and Landreaux Iron are the parents of five-year-old LaRose. They’re neighbors/friends of Nola and Peter Ravich, parents of same-age Dusty, LaRose’s friend and cousin. Emmaline and Nola are half-sisters, but “Emmaline doesn’t like her sister. And Nola can’t stand Emmaline.” Paradoxically, Romeo Puyat’s heart is an “old prune of crapped-on hopes.” Not only does he carry a torch for Emmaline, he blames Landreaux for a disabling childhood injury and vows vengeance for that perceived wrong. And then there’s devout Father Travis, who voids vows of celibacy with Emmaline.

While hunting, Landreaux has a sure shot that doesn’t kill his intended target. “Dusty’s hair had been a scorched blond, the same color as the deer. He’d been wearing a tan T-shirt and it was hunting season.” In a sort of Solomon baby-splitting scenario, the Irons follow Ojibwe tribal tradition and give LaRose to Dusty’s grieving parents. “It’s the old way, said Landreaux. Our son will be your son.”

LaRose Iron is wise beyond his young years, perhaps due to communing with North Dakota Ojibwe tribal members’spirits from generations past. The current LaRose fulfills his legacy as a healer, serving as a bridge between the two families. While living in the Ravich home, LaRose observes Nola’s grief-induced suicidal ideation. He hides narcotics, old-fashioned razor blades, and even material that could serve as the rope Nola had strung up in the barn. But LaRose has difficulty healing himself and doesn’t understand why he can’t be with his own family. He “hung his head and cried, gasping.”

The presence of LaRose has other healing effects, as Romeo straightens himself out --- metaphorically and in reality. Pending acts of retribution are diffused, but Romeo’s vengeance “triggered events over which he now has no control” as Peter sets into motion a horrific plot to rectify Dusty’s death.

Ever the master of emotions, Erdrich --- whose accolades include the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, National Book Award for Fiction, and Library of Congress Prize in American Fiction --- incorporates elements of guilt, justice and atonement. She turns a tedious digression of the first of five LaRose generations into a thriller of sorts, and clever suspense entices mystery fans.

Audiobook available, performed by Louise Erdrich

Reviewed by L. Dean Murphy on May 10, 2016

by Louise Erdrich

  • Publication Date: May 10, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062277022
  • ISBN-13: 9780062277022