The Round House

Photo: Philip Friedman/Studio D

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The Round House
336 pages; Harper
In The Round House Louise Erdrich threads a gripping mystery and multilayered portrait of a community through a deeply affecting coming-of-age novel. On a quiet spring Sunday that has 13-year-old Joe wishing “something out of the ordinary” would happen, his mother, Geraldine, arrives home bloody, shaking, and reeking of gasoline. She has been raped, beaten, and almost set on fire before escaping her attacker. Set in North Dakota in 1988 among members of the Ojibwe tribe (introduced in Erdrich’s acclaimed 2008 novel The
Plague of Doves), the plot hinges on laws that hinder the prosecution of rapes by non-Indians on reservations. The issue is made vividly personal through the novel’s rich characters. Joe’s father, Bazil, a tribal judge, is especially compelling as a gentle man struggling to protect his beloved wife. “The light caught the lines in his face and they deepened to cracks,” Joe observes. “He looked a thousand years old.” As for Joe, he’s a mix of rage and raging hormones. When his sexy ex-stripper aunt, Sonja, comforts him with a hug, he thinks her breasts are “to break your heart over.” Outside Sonja’s presence, Joe obsesses about finding the attacker so his mother will feel safe. He enlists the help of three friends, who ride off on their bikes in search of clues. Erdrich mines gentle humor from the exploits of this pubescent posse; the boys fixate on the minutiae of Star Trek: The Next Generation, get buzzed on beer that might be evidence, and tell crude jokes about one another’s anatomy. None of this distracts from the seriousness of their purpose, which Joe describes as a search for “the identity of the man whose act had nearly severed my mother’s spirit from her body. With all that we did, we were trying to coax the soul back into her.”
— Karen Holt