One of our all-time favorite authors, Louise Erdrich wrote Amazon’s 2012 Best Book of the Year, The Round House. (The novel also won a little prize called the National Book Award.) This month, she’s back with the majestic LaRose, a story of family, obligation and love, set on a Native American reservation. The novel moves back in forth in time to introduce us to several different characters named LaRose, but it begins in the present with a harrowing, transformative scene we’ve excerpted below, following Erdrich’s comments on how and why she came to write LaRose:
About fifty pages into a book I thought would be LaRose, I began to write the first scene. It shocked me and pulled me forward. This is it, I jotted in the margin (I write by hand), and set aside those fifty pages to begin a new LaRose.
Maybe this is the first book I’ve written about two men, about what devastating act destroys their friendship, and what endures. The pressure of their decency, anguish, and affection drove much of the narrative. But for me the writing sprang to life in another way once Maggie entered the scene. When I wrote that her hair was a sly wave, I knew who she was.
Pasted into my manuscripts are notes I can hardly decipher, written as I woke to take my daughter to school. I have just started writing books with more linear story lines, and I become invested in them as a reader, if that makes sense. Every day I try to create a level of intensity for myself that will force me to return the next day. I make a problem for myself in order to experience the sometimes difficult joy of writing a resolution.
From LaRose by Louise Erdrich
Where the reservation boundary invisibly bisected a stand of deep brush – chokecherry, popple, stunted oak – Landreaux waited. He said he was not drinking, and there was no sign later. Landreaux was a devout Catholic who also followed traditional ways, a man who would kill a deer, thank one god in English and put down tobacco for another god in Ojibwe. He was married to a woman even more devout than he, and had five children, all of whom he tried to feed and keep decent. His neighbor, Peter Ravich, had a big farm cobbled together out of what used to be Indian allotments; he tilled the corn, soy, and hay fields on the western edge of wild fractionated tribal land. He and Landreaux and their wives, who were half-sisters, traded – eggs for ammo, rides to town, kids clothing, potatoes for flour – that sort of thing. Their children played together although they went to different schools. This was 1999 and Ravich had been talking about the millennium, how he was setting up alternate power sources, buying special software for his computer, stocking up on the basics; he had even filled an old gasoline tank buried by his utility shed. Ravich thought that something would happen, but not what did happen.
Landreaux had kept track of the buck all summer, waiting to take it, fat, until just after the corn was harvested. As always, he’d give a portion to Ravich. The buck had regular habits and had grown comfortable on its path. It would wait and watch through mid afternoon. Then would venture out before dusk, crossing the reservation line to browse the margins of Ravich’s fields Now it came, stepping down the path, pausing to take scent. Landreaux was downwind. The buck turned to peer out at Ravich’s cornfield, giving Landreaux a perfect shot. He was extremely adept, had started hunting small game with his grandfather at the age of seven. Landreaux took the shot with fluid confidence. When the buck popped away he realized he’d hit something else – there had been a blur the moment he squeezed the trigger. Only when he walked forward to investigate and looked down, did he understand that he had killed his neighbor’s son.
Landreaux didn’t touch the boy’s body. He dropped his rifle and ran through the woods to the door of the Ravich house, a tan ranch style with a picture window and a deck. When Nola opened the door and saw Landreaux trying to utter her son’s name, she went down on her knees and pointed upstairs, where he was – but wasn’t. She had just checked, found him gone, and was coming out to search for him when she heard the shot. She tried to stay on her hands and knees. Then she heard Landreaux on the phone, telling the dispatcher what had happened. He dropped the phone when she tried to bolt out the door. Landreaux got his arms around her. She lashed and clawed to get free, and was still struggling when the tribal police and the emergency team arrived. She didn’t make it out the door, but soon she saw the paramedics sprinting across the field. The ambulance lurching slowly after, down the grassy tractor path to the woods.
She screamed some terrible things at Landreaux, things she could not remember. The tribal police were there. She knew them. Execute him! Execute the son of a bitch! she shouted. Once Peter arrived and talked to her, she understood – the medics had tried but it was over. Peter explained. His lips moved but she couldn’t hear the words. He was too calm, she thought, her mind ferocious, too calm. She wanted her husband to bludgeon Landreaux to death. She saw it clearly. Though she was a small closed-up woman who had never done harm in her life, she wanted blood everlasting. Her nine year old daughter had been ill that morning, stayed home from school. Still feverish, she came down the stairs and crept into the room. Her mother disliked it when she and her brother made a mess, threw his toys in heaps, dumped them all out of the toy box. Quietly, the daughter took the toys out of the box and laid them here and there. Her mother saw them and knelt down suddenly, put the toys away. She spoke harshly to her daughter. Can you not make a mess? Is it in you to not make a mess? When the toys were back in she started screaming again. The daughter took the toys out. The mother slammed them into the toybox. Every time her mother kneeled down and picked up the toys, the grown ups looked away and talked loudly to cover her words.
The girl’s name was Maggie, after her great aunt Maggie Peace. The girl had pale luminous skin and her hair was chestnut brown – it lay on her shoulders in a sly wave. 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, although that wouldn’t have mattered on the side of the boundary where Landreaux had shot at the deer.
You might also like:
- "A Fairytale for All Aspiring Writers": Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney on The Nest
- The Old Boys’ Club: Publishing, the 50s, and the Three-Martini Lunch
Subscribe to Omnivoracious: The Book Store PD, featuring picks for the best books of the month, author interviews, reading recommendations, and more from the Amazon Books editors.
Shop this article on Amazon.com