Thursday, October 18, 2012
REVIEW: The Round House, by Louise Erdrich
The year is 1988. Thirteen year old Joe lives on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota with his parents, his mother Geraldine a tribal administrator and his father Bazil a judge. By reservation standards, he is well off and his family is stable and prosperous. He likes to hang out with his friends and they're all obsessed with a new show on television, Star Trek: The Next Generation.
But then one ordinary Sunday his mother is attacked. Someone has raped and beaten her, and had meant to do worse. The family is thrown into chaos; his heretofore reliable and nurturing mother refuses to leave her room, or eat, or talk. His father is helpless in the face of his wife's trauma, and Joe is forced to take on the adult world long before he's ready. Frustrated with the slow pace of the investigation and the hurdles presented by tribal law, he goes out with his friends, especially his best friend Cappy, to find answers and seek justice himself. What follows is a slow-motion tragedy that will mark them all for life.
The Round House gives up its secrets slowly, and some not at all. Joe's investigation, alongside his father's, exposes buried family sagas, unspoken truths about reservation life and the white American world beyond it, and forces almost everyone into making painful choices and accepting horrific realities. The book is filled with supporting characters whose lives contain tragedies of their own; Linda Wishknob, a white woman adopted by an Indian family after her own left her to die as a infant, and Sonja, Joe's uncle's girlfriend, had, for me, the most poignant arcs. But everyone is transformed by the fallout of the attack on Geraldine.
I hadn't read Louise Erdrich before and didn't know exactly what to expect. What I found was a novel that was at once easy to read and difficult to fully assimilate. The Round House is a book that asks a lot of hard questions about guilt, remorse, justice, family, love and the search for quiet in our lives and in our hearts. The smoothness of Erdrich's prose belies the uncompromising toughness beneath the surface. I would encourage readers of literary fiction to pick it up but be ready for some difficult, emotional reading.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.