Title: The Round House
Author: Louise Erdrich
Release Date: October 2, 2012
Genre: Literary Fiction, Cultural Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Thirteen-year-old Joe Coutts lives on a Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota, and he spends his time much like any other teenage boy—going to school and causing mischief with his friends. But when Joe’s mother is brutally attacked, raped, and almost murdered, his life changes in an instant.
Louise Erdrich’s brilliant novel The Round House stems from one disturbing and all-too-real fact: one in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime. It’s rape that is the centerpiece of this novel, and though it’s an incredibly weighty subject, Erdrich does an excellent job keeping the book from being too heavy. Though Joe discovers many of the disturbing details surrounding his mother’s attack, the fact that he’s just thirteen years old means that those around him try to protect him from what’s happened. It makes things a little softer and gentler, a bit easier to bear the horrors of this book.
The Round House wasn’t what I expected when I first picked it up. I expected a novel about justice, about jurisdiction and a manhunt, and while the book had these elements, that’s not really what the book is about. Instead, it’s Joe’s coming of age story, told through the prism of his mother’s rape. Joe is forced to grow up fast; he realizes the dark nature of the world he lives in and becomes aware of the faults in our justice system. It’s incredibly nuanced and well done, and readers will absolutely love Joe’s voice as he carries them through the story.
That’s not to say that The Round House doesn’t have an absorbing storyline, just that it’s centered on character rather than plot. Erdrich touches on many issues in the novel, namely the quality of life on a reservation, the racism towards Native people, and the troubling issues with finding justice when there are jurisdiction problems. The author never deals with these with too heavy of a hand, so the commentary is subtle and done mostly by implication. The story is engrossing, and it takes readers to unexpected places as Joe makes difficult decisions as a consequence of his mother’s attack.
Beautifully written and unexpected, with characters that will capture your attention from the very first page, The Round House deserves every bit of praise it’s received. Erdrich does an excellent job probing issues in a thought-provoking way, leaving the reader pondering long after the last pages are turned. It’s not always an easy book to read, but the author has a way of making it surprisingly enjoyable due to Joe’s engaging voice, despite the difficult subject matter.