The Round House by Louise Erdrich
One Sunday in 1988, thirteen-year-old Joe Coutts learns that his mother has been the victim of a brutal attack by a man on their North Dakota reservation. Joe’s mother is traumatized and afraid. She takes to her bed, and refuses to talk to anyone – including the police; meanwhile his father, a tribal judge, endeavours to wrest justice from a situation that defies his keenest efforts; and young Joe’s moral and emotional landscape shifts on its child’s axis. Frustrated, confused and nursing a complicated fury, Joe sets out with his best friends Cappy, Zack and Angus in search of answers that might put his mother’s attacker behind bars – and set his family’s world straight again. Or so he hopes.
Anyone that knows me will know I have quite a fascination with the Native American culture, and after reading Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine some years ago back when I was at university, I literally jumped at the chance to read and review her latest award-winning offering, The Round House.
If you haven’t read Erdrich before then you are definitely in for a treat. She certainly hasn’t won numerous awards for nothing. She is one of those writers whose language is full of symbols and a deeper meaning, and she gets to the heart of her characters in a way I rarely see these days. Louise is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, and her novels focus on the cultural identity of Native Americans, both in the past and in the present day.
Although I can safely say The Round House as a whole is a fantastic novel, the first fifty pages or so are especially harrowing and unforgettable. To watch Joe come to terms with his mother being so violently attacked and become a shell of her former self is really poignantly depicted. There were moments when I was right there with him, and feeling a loss of someone he will never know again, because after an attack like that, how can you ever be the person you were before? You get to witness Joe’s last days as a blissfully ignorant child, enjoying life the way every child should, to suddenly having to deal with this cataclysmic event that will forever change all their lives. It is really is all down to Louise’s ability to be able to get inside the minds of her characters, and bring alive their thoughts and emotions in such a delicate way that makes this novel something special.
Of course what seems worst of all within this story, is what Erdrich is bringing to every reader’s attention. We know that the attack happened on the land surrounding the ceremonial Round House, but because parts of the area belongs to state, federal and native territories, each with their own laws, it is impossible to prosecute anyone for the attack. In the author’s note at the end, Erdrich tells us that one in three Native American women will report being raped, and 86% of those will be by non-Native men because they think they can get away with it. It seems incredibly important for Erdrich to bring this to light to so many readers out there. But what these ridiculous laws mean is that people will take it into their own hands, and who are we to blame them? I certainly didn’t blame Joe…
The Round House is an incredible novel and I know that not everyone is as interested in the Native American culture as I am, but I would seriously urge you all to read it. Despite the harrowing subject matter, there is still a lot of joy and warmth to be seen within its cast of often wacky characters, and a lot of moments where I found myself laughing out loud. The Round House won this year’s National Book Award, and for me, it’s easy to see why. Louise Erdrich is a truly gifted writer and I literally can’t wait to read more of her work.
The Round House is published by Corsair, and is out now. A massive thank you goes to the publisher for sending me a beautiful finished copy for review!