Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Round House: The Fine Line Between Justice and Revenge

The opening pages of Louise Erdrich's 2012 National Book Award-winning novel The Round House show our 13-year-old narrator Joe digging up tree roots that are attacking the foundation of the family's home on an Indian Reservation in North Dakota. It's a scene that screams "METAPHOR," and it's not long before we find out just how uprooted Joe's family's has become. Joe's mother has been savagely beaten and raped, and as a result, she dissolves within herself and withdraws from the family, as the family and the reservation community struggle to make sense of the crime. 

Joe's father — a judge on the reservation —looks for legal recourse. But the crime has deeper roots and is more complicated than the family could've imagined. It's not just a case of reservation politics and misguided revenge, as Joe's father originally assumed. Of course, that doesn't make the crime any less horrific. What it does make it is more difficult to bring the perpetrator to justice.

Joe — always accompanied by his good friend Cappy — struggles to understand the crime, as well. He wants revenge, but more, he just wants things to be back to normal. Of course, that's impossible — not just because of the terrible crime against his mother, but also because Joe's at that age where he has to choose what kind of person he will be. Will he become a "reservation deadbeat" like many of his relatives, or will he make something of himself, and work toward justice, like his father?

Told in thrilling bursts of story (with Joe as the first-person narrator) mixed with Native American myth, and even a dash of humor (one of Joe's grandmothers is a consummate pervert — constantly telling Joe and his friends about her sexual escapades as a younger woman), this is a novel that won't leave you anytime soon after finishing.  It's about in/justice and revenge and violence and hypocrisy and history and growing up and friendship and family and just all the things that make for a novel you're can't extricate from you thoughts. Yes, it's haunting. And it's highly recommended.


  1. I love Louise Erdrich's writing and thought this was very good.

  2. This is the only book of hers that I've read. I thought it was gorgeous. I'd really like to explore her back list...one of these days.

  3. The book portrays the dynamics of what tragedy can do to not only a family but those around them. Being married to an Cherokee I loved the powwow description and made me long to go to another. We used to attend many but there aren't any where we now live. The book had a few places where it dragged a bit. Loved the adventures of the boys; bikes, girls, Priest, relatives, and friends.

  4. I've only read one Erdrich book but was impressed with her ability to blend heritage, dramatic situations and humor. I didn't love that book but was certain that I'd give Erdrich another shot. Looks like this is the one to choose!

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