Louise Erdrich's writing speaks softly and carries a big stick. She doesn't shy away from challenging issues - death, rape, murder. But her characters and their story lines are so layered and complex the darkness draws readers into her suspenseful dilemmas.
Her latest book, LaRose, concerns justice and its consequences. One character mistakenly and fatally shoots his friend's son while hunting. In an attempt to make amends, he hands over his son LaRose to the victim's family. There is plenty of loss to go around.
Erdrich, who won the 2012 National Book Award for fiction writing for The Round House, will be at the Free Library at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. She says she doesn't want to be remembered for her keen depictions of sorrow. From her home in Minnesota, she discussed how time changes on a book tour, how much she annoys her family between books, and also the loss of the state's icon, Prince.
What are book tours like for you?
These book tours - I rocket through them, leaving pieces of my psyche and my soul and probably my physical being up in the stratosphere. When I leave and I come back, I feel like I'm missing a lot of me. But what comes from the tours is this great sense of readership in this country, and that's something that's missing when people think of American culture. There isn't a real acknowledgment of how many serious, thoughtful, interested readers there are.
People are very passionate about their books.
It's the equivalent of a secret hand clasp - seeing someone with a big hardcover on an airplane. It's a gravity that draws me to that person. With all the world and a hundred objects, that you took the time to lug that fantastic book. I'm instantly in love with you. You're a hero.
You're known for writing about pain and sorrow so well.
On the whole, I'd rather be known for my sense of humor in books. Pain is a condition, and of course I've been through it and it's part of life. What I strive for is to make people laugh in the books. It might be a dark feeling of laughter.
Author Erik Larson talked about the "dark country of no ideas," where writers go between books. It's not a happy time. What is it like for you between projects?
I think everyone around me would call it an annoying country. All I do is grab my loved ones and say: "What about this idea? Is this a good idea?" And they pat me on the head and say, "Yeah, that's a great idea." And then I come back and I say, "No, that one didn't work out; what about this one?"
You live in Minnesota. Were you a Prince fan?
I just loved Prince's work. Everybody was inspired by Prince. ... When I saw that ad that said, "Baby, that was much too fast," I cried. We just lost David Bowie. We can't lose another. I just can't believe it. I have a 15-year-old daughter who, all of a sudden, is playing "Purple Rain" on the guitar. I want him back.
Did you know what LaRose was about before you started writing?
I started writing LaRose several times. It wasn't supposed to be about this - it was a completely different idea. Somehow with books, they're already written, and you have to find your way toward what you're supposed to be writing about. I make so many false attempts and throw away tons of pages, and at some point, something catches and I keep going.
How do you celebrate when you're done?
I don't celebrate when I finish writing the book - it's finishing the copy editing. I have a fantastic editor and he catches everything and it's unbearable. There's a long process. Once that's done, I go and throw myself into Lake Superior.
That's very cold!
It's a brutal celebration, but you feel terrific afterward.