Wednesday, June 8, 2016
June 8, 2016: AmericanStudies Beach Reads: Erdrich’s LaRose
[For this year’s installment of my annual Beach Reads series, I wanted to highlight books I’m looking forward to checking out. That means I’ll have less to say about them, of course—but I hope you’ll share your thoughts on these and/or your own Beach Read recommendations for a crowd-sourced weekend post that’ll go great with suntan lotion and iced beverages!]
On the difficulties of breaking reading and teaching habits, and a book that should help me do so.
I really, really love Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine (1984; revised and expanded in 1993). That hyperlinked post says a lot about why; the chapter of my upcoming book that pairs the short story cycle/novel with Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony (1977) will offer an even fuller analysis of how Erdrich’s debut novel portrays some of the darkest histories and contemporary issues facing Native American communities while coming to beautiful concluding images of hope for her youngest generation characters. I teach Love Medicine consistently in both my Major American Authors of the 20th Century and Ethnic American Literature courses (paired with Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club in the latter class), and every time I do so I both find something new and meaningful in Erdrich’s work and draw out compelling student readings and ideas. So again, I really, really love Love Medicine.
It’s obviously good to find books about which we feel so strongly, indeed it’s likely a goal for all of us who love to read, but there’s at least one limitation: it can make it a lot harder to broaden our horizons, especially when it comes to that particular author. I’ve read a number of Erdrich’s follow up novels, including The Beet Queen (1986) and Tracks (1988), and—perhaps because they quite simply aren’t Love Medicine, as no distinct work would ever be (even though they do feature some of the same characters and families)—they just didn’t grab me in the same way. So, both because of those reactions and because there’s only so much time in life and my list of books-to-read doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter, at a certain point I stopped reading Erdrich’s subsequent releases, even those—such as the Pulitzer-nominated, lynching-focused historical novel The Plague of Doves (2009) and the National Book Award winning The Round House (2012)—that I have every reason to believe I would enjoy and get a great deal out of.
I’m not proud of that tendency, and fortunately Erdrich has recently released another acclaimed novel, LaRose, that offers me a chance to break the cycle. Beginning with a contemporary tragedy, this newest novel moves back through four distinct historical periods, tracing Native American histories and identities across these eras and stages in the lives of two intertwined families. Sounds like just the kind of multi-perspectival historical novel I love—but honestly, I didn’t need to know that to know that I should read more of Erdrich, give myself a chance to find more books that I really, really love and want to teach and share. Expect a full review here!
Next prospective Beach Read tomorrow,
PS. Thoughts on this book? Other Beach Reads you’d share?