Louise Erdrich’s LaRose wins fiction prize from book critics

By HILLEL ITALIE, AP National Writer

Louise Erdrich’s LaRose has won the National Book Critics Circle prize for fiction, an honor she first received more than 30 years ago for her debut novel Love Medicine.

Erdrich’s story of a young boy’s accidental shooting and its many consequences for two Native American families was praised by the critics circle as an “arresting” narrative with historical sweep. LaRose wasn’t a book about contemporary politics, but the author, like other speakers at the announcement, said she regarded the creative process as an essential act of resistance during a time of “fake news” and attacks against the press.

“The truth is being assaulted, not only in our country, but all over the world,” she said, addressing the writers and critics gathered at the New School auditorium in Manhattan. “We have to go after the truth. … Let us be fierce and dangerous about the truth.”

The nonfiction prize went to Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, one of many recent books about the class divide that have received increased attention since the political rise of Donald Trump.

Other winners announced were Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl for autobiography, Ruth Franklin’s Shirley Jackson for biography, Ishion Hutchinson’s House of Lords and Commons for poetry and Carol Anderson’s White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide for criticism.

The critics also gave a prize for best debut book to Yaa Gyasi, for her novel Homegoing.

Michelle Dean, whose work has appeared in The Guardian, The New Republic and elsewhere, was cited for excellence in reviewing.

Margaret Atwood, whose The Handmaid’s Tale has returned to best-seller lists more than 30 years after its original release, was presented an honorary award for lifetime achievement.

The Handmaid’s Tale is part of another Trump-influenced trend — increased sales for dystopian fiction — and a book Atwood has said is more realistic than she had desired.

She wryly expressed gratitude that she was permitted to enter the U.S. from her native Canada, a reference to Trump’s policies on immigration and border control.

Like Erdrich, she urged the writers and critics in the room to press on with their work and noted that in many countries what they were doing would be illegal.

“I hope there will be fewer such places,” she added, “but I’m not holding my breath.”

The critics circle was founded in 1974 and consists of nearly 600 critics and book review editors from around the country.