Rating: 3.5 / 5
The Round House opens in 1988 with the violent rape and attempted murder of 13-year-old Joe Coutt’s mom, Geraldine Coutts. Although it is thought that Geraldine knows who attacked her, she has essentially folded inward, barricading herself in her bed for weeks and barely eating. Joe’s father, Bazil, is a tribal judge, and understands the complexities of this case, for the location of Geraldine’s attack is a grey area in terms of which law will apply, tribal or state. Also, Geraldine has not stated if her attacker was Native American or not. Joe has the impatience of a teenager, and does not understand why his father cannot move faster and bring justice to his mother’s attacker. Therefore, with the help of his best friends, Joe starts to investigate the crime, on one hand understanding how foolish it is, but unwilling to stop.
I was quite surprised with The Round House. From the jacket, I knew the centerpiece of the novel was the crime against Geraldine, but I expected The Round House to be infused with more action and a greater sense of justice. Instead, the novel was more about Joe’s coming of age. At 13, the world is largely black and white for him; he understands something bad happened to his mom, and he understands that there is a suspect, but he does not comprehend the subtle nuances of the legal system.
The Round House is moving; it is heart wrenching to read about the injustice that is pervasive to Native Americans at the hands of non-Natives. The fact that this is not something that is strictly confined to history books, but is still going on today only makes it worse. The Round House is compelling, but for me, it was very character-driven, and I tend to gravitate towards books that are more plot driven. At various parts, Erdrich is wordy, and some side stories were too long for my taste. Overall though, I do understand the attention The Round House garnered and why this won the prestigious National Book Award.