And I looked at her. But she was not all right. There were scrapes of blows and the awful lopsidedness. Her skin had lost its normal warm color. It was gray as ash. Her lips were seamed with dried blood. The nurse came in, raise the end of the bed with a crank. Laid another blanket over her. I hung my head and leaned toward her. I tried to stroke her wrapped wrist and cold, dry fingertips. With a cry, she snatched her hand away as though I’d hurt her. She went rigid and closed her eyes. This action devastated me.
It is 1988 and on a reservation in North Dakota, thirteen-year-old Joe and his father come home to find his mother in her car, victim of a violent sexual attack.
The details of this crime trickle in as his mother sinks into herself and is unwilling to leave her room, let alone talk about what happened, but eventually they learn that Geraldine was attacked in the vicinity of the round house, a place of worship for the Ojibwe. However, because of various tribal laws, it is uncertain whether the accused can be charged. Joe and his friends, Cappy, Zach and Angus, decide to get their own answers and investigate.
I am new to Erdrich’s fiction, having only read her travelogue Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country, but I understand that most of her works have taken place on the same North Dakota reservation. For me, The Round House was a fascinating read, a look into the everyday lives of these Native Americans. Their beliefs, their tribal laws, the stories that Joe’s grandfather Mooshum tells in his sleep about the round house.
It is a compelling story, a crime novel of sorts, one that deals with a family, a boy coming to terms with a trauma, yet it is also a story about growing up. Erdrich never forgets that her narrator is a young teenager, although she also tells us from the beginning that this story is being told to us by present-day adult Joe, who has become a lawyer and as such is able to provide some insights and moments of reflection as he looks back on his past.
“The words I love youechoed. Why had I said those words and why into the phone just as I knew he was replacing it on the cradle? That I had said those words now made me furious and that my father had not responded singed my soul. A red cloud of anger floated up over my eyes.”
In an interview with the New York Times, Erdrich said:
In order to write a novel about jurisdictional issues on American Indian reservations — without falling asleep — I decided to try a character-driven suspense narrative. Personally, I always envied and wanted the freedom that boys have. I get a kick out of 13-year-old boys I know. Also, as this is a book of memory, I am able to add the resonance of Joe’s maturity.
While the matter at hand is no doubt a terrifying, shocking one, what stayed with me days after I had closed this book, was young Joe and his friends and relatives and the rest of the tribe, and how they came together for him and his family.
About Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich is the author of thirteen novels as well as volumes of poetry, short stories, children’s books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel Love Medicine won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse was a finalist for the National Book Award. Most recently,The Plague of Doves won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Louise Erdrich lives in Minnesota and is the owner of Birchbark Books, an independent bookstore.
Check out the other blogs participating in the tour:
Monday, October 22nd: Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, October 24th: Oh! Paper Pages
Monday, October 29th: West Metro Mommy
Tuesday, October 30th: The Betty and Boo Chronicles
Thursday, November 1st: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Tuesday, November 6th: Conceptual Reception
Wednesday, November 7th: Sweet Tidbits
Thursday, November 8th: Olduvai Reads
Tuesday, November 13th: In the Next Room
Monday, November 26th: Lisa’s Yarns
Tuesday, December 4th: Book Dilettante
Wednesday, December 5th: Books, Thoughts and a Few Adventures
Thursday, December 6th: Veronica MD
Tuesday, December 11th: Book Chatter
Wednesday, December 12th: Peppermint PhD
Thursday, December 13th: Broken Teepee
Friday, December 14th: Seaside Book Corner
Monday, December 17th: World’s Strongest Librarian