The Round House: A Novel
by Louise Erdrich
Set in 1988, this is the story of a fateful summer on an Indian reservation in North Dakota. Narrated by an adult Joe, he recounts the brutal rape of his mother the summer he turned 13, and its aftermath.
After Joe’s mother – a lively and well-respected woman in the community – comes home desolate and bleeding one evening, she retreats into silence. The rape took place in the vicinity of the reservation’s sacred round house, but also in the vicinity of a tangle of boundaries between reservation-owned land, federal land, state land, and “free land.” The tribal court’s jurisdiction is extremely limited, and faced with the reality that his mother’s attacker is on the loose and may never be prosecuted, Joe decides to take the situation into his own young hands. Joe’s friends are drawn in as well, and before all is said and done, these boys, brave and reckless and searching, will all leave childhood behind in the course of a summer.
Erdrich paints a vivid picture of reservation life, where poverty is visible everywhere, where a degraded people fight to retain dignity and sovereignty, and where land boundaries affect the criminal justice system in profound ways.
Part mystery, part thriller-suspense, this is mostly a coming of age story, eloquently told. The depiction of events is chilling and emotional, and it’s one of those books where you feel like you’ve climbed inside the story and are watching it happen. I am always fascinated by authors who narrate as members of the opposite sex, and I was impressed by how expertly Erdrich wrote in the voice of a 13-year old boy. There are a few parts of the story that meander off into Indian myths, and those digressions dragged a bit for me, but all in all, I really enjoyed this book and appreciated the glimpse into reservation life.
I agreed to read and review this book for TLC Book Tours, and coincidentally, it’s also my book club’s pick for next month. Great read!