Like a couple of its predecessors, Louise Erdrich’s newest book, LaRose, returns to the Ojibwe territory of North Dakota. It begins with a fatal tragedy: while hunting, Landreaux Iron shoots and kills his neighbor’s five-year-old son, Dusty. The neighbor, Peter Ravich, is Landreaux’s best friend, and their sons were best friends. Dusty’s death is promptly ruled an accident, but the two families are left in pieces. Landreaux, a recovering alcoholic, is devastated. He’s been cleared by the law, but his grief is pulling him towards a different kind of atonement.
Quite simply, he wants to die. Peter’s wife, Nola, who happens to be Landreaux’s sister-in-law, also wants him to die. Her anger, it seems, is the only thing keeping her going. Instead, Landreaux’s wife, Emmaline, goes with him to their sweat lodge to pray. When it’s all over, they’ve come to an agonizing decision on how they’ll atone for Dusty’s death. As per ancient custom, they’ll give their own five-year-old son, LaRose, to the Raviches. “Our son will be your son now,” they inform the bereaved couple.
Set in the near future, Alexander Weinstein’s collection of speculative fiction explores our increasingly dependent relationship with technology. The characters in these stories openly have affairs via virtual reality, pay people to create memories for them, give birth to e-children and raise their families in an online simulation, and mourn the loss of outdated androids with sophisticated AI. Readers are left to make sense of this weird, sad, innovative high-tech “utopia” Weinstein has built.
I loved it.
The collection opens with “Saying Goodbye to Yang.” A family of four is eating breakfast when one of the children, Yang, begins banging his head into his cereal bowl. The boy is a Big Brother android, purchased to help raise their adopted Chinese daughter with some cultural awareness that her white parents cannot give her. Yang’s subsequent mechanical meltdown is deeply felt by all in ways they never expected; although he’s a machine, he’s always been one of the family.
Set mostly in the late nineteenth century, Eowyn Ivey’s latest novel is set in motion when Colonel Allen Forrester receives a commission to go deep into the Alaskan wilderness to find a way north through the Wolverine River. It is a dangerous task that has never been done before, but if he and his tiny crew of men can figure out how to do it, the United States will have access to Alaska’s gold and natural resources.
The group decides to try walking down the river when it’s frozen over, so timing is key. Before they even reach the river, they’ll have to deal with the harsh elements of nature as well as indigenous populations that may or may not be receptive to them. The entire journey could take a year, and Allen is not happy about the prospect of leaving Sophie, his young and newly pregnant wife, for so long. And Sophie, who had originally planned to come along with Allen and see him off at his Alaskan starting point, is disappointed over seeing her one chance for adventure dashed by the pregnancy; instead, she’ll have to embrace domestic life in the Army barracks while she awaits Allen’s return, so she takes up the unladylike hobby of nature photography to distract herself from her other worries.
Máni Steinn is a queer sixteen-year-old living in early twentieth century Reykjavik. He is a loner who lives with his great-aunt and spends most of his time at the cinemas. He occasionally makes some extra cash prostituting himself to men, although he also finds himself drawn Sóla, a pretty girl who rides a motorcycle around town and who is well aware of Máni’s secret interactions with local men.
In 1918, the big news in Iceland was the country’s newly gained independence, the recent Katla volcano eruption, and the coal and food shortage. For the most part, Iceland, is spared a lot of the trouble brewing in other parts of the world because of its isolated location. Then horror arrives via incoming ship passengers: the influenza epidemic that swept across the world finds its entry into Reykjavik. The flu’s seemingly manageable early symptoms quickly morph into something far more alarming, and soon, no home is left untouched by sickness or death.
The Regional Office exists to protect the world from nefarious attacks. It was created by the superhuman Oyemi and her partner, Mr. Niles. Together, they source oracles to predict future attacks and train teenage girls to become highly skilled assassins. But now the oracles have predicted that someone on the inside wants to bring down the Regional Office, and sure enough, it’s under attack.
It’s kind of a hard book to describe. Imagine elements from Minority Report, Kill Bill, Die Hard, plus a dash of Mean Girls, then sprinkle in some superpowers. On one side is Rose, a hot-headed teenager who is leading the attack. Half of the book is told from her perspective; when the attack happens, she’s in for a nasty surprise and must think on her feet. But she’s also lovestruck with the man who recruited her into becoming an assassin, and the chapters alternate between her troubled past and her present predicament.