In 1999, close to the Ojibwe reservation in northern North Dakota, two families, neighbors, one white, one Native American, have been friends for years: the Ravich’s and the Iron’s. The men married half-sisters. They help each other. But Landreaux Iron accidently shoots and kills Pete Ravich’s five-year old son, Dusty, while hunting. How does either family go on after such a catastrophe? How do they not implode under the weight of grief, guilt and rage? Those questions form the heart of the novel.
Landreaux and his wife recall their Ojibwe traditions, and in an impossible, perfect, fraught action, give their five-year old son, Larose, to the Ravich’s to raise as their own — a life for a life.
LaRose is the latest in a line of Larose’s, and a mysterious boy who has the gift of second sight and of seeing the dead, the same gifts as his antecedents. Erdrich weaves into the narrative a wholly convincing magic realism, an Ojibwe version.
She creates an integrated community made up of sisters on a high school volleyball team; a priest, an ex-Marine and survivor of the Beirut barracks bombing; brazen, elderly Ojibwe women in a nursing home, and Romeo, an addict and a damaged man whose desire for revenge brings the plot to its climax. But it is LaRose at the center of it all, a boy of resourcefulness and courage, who has a intuitive understanding of his role as the link between families: he is the one who is to be loved.
At the end, the dead gather with the living at a celebration, and LaRose listens to their song:
“We love you, Don’t cry, Sorrow eats time, Be patient, Time eats sorrow.”
We also hear the song, of course, invited into knowledge by Larose’s talent, and invited into the peculiar power of some novels to also change us and make us better.