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Thursday, March 28, 2013

On a Much More Serious Note...

Book Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Book Type: Literary fiction, Native American fiction, crime

Predictability Factor: Not so much. 

Cover Art: Um, broken Native American pottery????

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: ????

Character Score: 7.5 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?:  Teen's mother is assaulted. He and his father (along with 3 of Joe's best buds) attempt to piece the story together to find out who the attacker was while dealing with a lot of emotional baggage.

X-Factor: Indian reservation politics, uber saga




Predictability Factor: Not here, guys!  This is why I love Erdrich's books.  It isn't even about the plot half of the time- it's about the family drama and the everyday lives of people.  Not a book about the "dark, fierce eyes" of the savages, etc.  Not a stereotypical story about Native Americans in any sense.

Cover Art: Um, doesn't say much about the book.  Looks like a bunch of Native American pottery shards.  I mean, they are arranged in a round shape but...that's pretty much it.  Could be bits of bark? No idea.  Just makes for a clean but fairly uninteresting cover.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Sorry guys, kind of hard to pick who I'd want to sleep with in a book about someone who was sexually assaulted.  

Character Score: Love them.  Love them all.  My heart wants to burst for love of Joe and the innocence he loses through no fault of his own. 

What's the Story?:  The Round House is just as much a coming of age story as it is a crime drama.  Our narrator, thirteen-year-old Joe, is faced with an event that will change life on a North Dakota reservation as he knows it.  His mother Geraldine is attacked and assaulted on a Sunday in the summer of 1988.  With no one else to turn to, her husband Bazil (the local tribal judge) confides in Joe and together the two begin to piece together the details of the attack.  Reservation politics make it difficult to determine where the crime was committed and who should be held responsible and Joe and his father fight for normalcy as they watch Geraldine sink lower and lower into solitude and fear.  As the summer days pass by, Joe and his three friends manage to find out who the attacker is and go to great lengths to seek justice. This book is filled with the quiet grace and heart-breaking complexity of Erdrich’s other novels and paints a truthful portrait of a family who struggles to survive the emotional aftermath of a horrific crime. 

Most of this book isn't about the crime itself or even about Joe and Bazil's hunt for answers.  It is mostly a coming of age story for a Native American teen growing up on a reservation in the eighties.  There are very endearing parts of the book that echo with tones from Stand By Me (including an explanation of why Joe and his friends love Star Trek and which Star Trek character would be the best lover).  But Joe does a lot of growing up in a short span of weeks and doesn't even realize that it is happening.  This is the heart of the book: the decisions that Joe must make and how they shape the man he will become.  We see him go from a scared boy to a young man who must make a very difficult decision between exacting vengeance and following the letter of the law. 

X-Factor: Indian law and politics play a role in this story.  I don't know any Native Americans personally.  Short aside- which is the current correct term? Native American? Indian? American Indian (as opposed to Indian American)?  At any rate, not knowing a lot about the politics and laws involved (other than the fact that there are thousands of laws out there), I found this book to be very interesting.  Native Americans have been screwed-over for centuries and even though this book takes place in the not-so-distant past, they are still screwed by traditional law enforcement.  A woman is raped and nearly beaten to death and no one really cares??? Why does her skin color or where she lives matter? Guess that is the point.  That the innocence of juveniles shouldn't have to be sacrificed in order for justice to be served.  Also, this book has a lot of reoccurring names that readers will recognize (Mooshum, Nanapush) from Erdrich's other books like Love Medicine and Tracks.  I love that.  It's like a big huge book that never ends because even though these novels never have the same main character, characters are constantly walking on and off the pages.  It's what I like to call an Uber Saga- it arches over many years, many books and even many families. 


This book will break your heart in the best possible way.  You will cheer for Joe though you can see the black shadows looming on his horizon.  Erdrich's prose is beautiful and captures the ordinary and extraordinary in a painstakingly subtle way. 

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