The Novel That Earned America's Biggest Prize (and Others)
384 pages; Harper
For the past three decades, Erdrich has explored reservation life in North Dakota and Minnesota with a depth that rivals Faulkner, encompassing family, war, violence and the push and pull of tribal and American law. Her 15th novel, LaRose, which won the National Book Critics Circle award for fiction, covers plenty of that cultural ground; its plot touches on homicide, post-traumatic stress disorder, religion and racism. (L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, gets called out for the anti-Native American screeds he wrote in his day.) But at the heart of this writer's inquiry lies the question of what makes a family, and in LaRose, Erdrich begins the story by tearing two families apart: A man accidentally kills a neighbor's son and then offers his own son as a replacement. That exchange has its roots in Native American traditions and opens up an exploration of past grievances and abuses on Ojibwa land, suggesting centuries of bad blood. "Energy of this nature, chaos, ill luck, goes out in the world and begets and begets," she writes. "Bad luck rarely stops with one occurrence. All Indians know that." Author Claire Vaye Watkins praised this stellar work as "a brutal, ultimately buoyant dramatization of the way unexpected kinships heal us."