What would you like to know?
Share this Story

RED HOT BOOK OF THE WEEK: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Candace is a full-time freelance book editor whose clients include both major publishing firms and prominent independent presses. She is also a freelance book reviewer and journalist, covering books in a wide range of genres. When she's ...

Crime, justice and the sacred in an Ojibwe community

In her 14th novel, Louise Erdrich returns to the Ojibwe reservation and the Coutts family to explore the complex social, spiritual and legal circumstances surrounding a rape and a young teen's struggle to make sense of violence and his mother's drift into depression.

The Round House

Two weeks before summer vacation in 1988, Geraldine Coutts was raped and beaten, but she cannot bring herself to talk about the attack — not to her family, to Ojibwe authorities or to the police. Her husband, a tribal leader, is stymied in his attempts to seek justice and answers through conventional modern methods. Profoundly affected by Geraldine's disconnection from her life and frustrated with the law, 13-year-old Joe becomes desperate to help his mother recover. Aided by his friends, the boy relies on both his cultural roots and contemporary media heroes to seek clues to the crime, setting off on a journey that crisscrosses Ojibwe sacred spaces and American secular domains.

Louise Erdrich wrote The Round House from Joe's young perspective, although at the telling, Joe is grown and is, like his dad, a tribal judge. The novel brilliantly conveys how Joe's adolescent mind tries to make sense of the adult world, moving easily from gross teen boy thoughts to crushing despair about his deeply-wounded family.

As with many of Erdrich's books, The Round House shines light on the complicated legal web that surrounds life on the Ojibwe reservation. Without a clear idea of the ethnic background of the perpetrator and the precise location of Geraldine's attack (public land, North Dakota land, federal land, Ojibwe land), the responsible jurisdiction cannot be determined. There is also a question of just how hard white authorities will work to solve the rape of a Native American.

The Round House is an emotionally disturbing, beautifully written coming-of-age story in which young Joe is faced with the unfair task of determining who he is at the core of his being. He wonders if violence is avenged through violence and if he is capable of doing wrong in the name of doing right. Because the story is told in retrospect, we know Joe's ultimate decision doesn't break him, but the choices made by him and his community in the summer of 1988 have long-reaching effects.

More Red Hot reading

Red Hot Book of the Week: Love Slave by Jennifer Spiegel
Red Hot Book of the Week: The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway
Must-Read: The Fine Color of Rust by P. A. O'Reilly

Tagged in
Comments
Recommended for You
Hot
New in Entertainment
Close

And you'll see personalized content just for you whenever you click the My Feed .

SheKnows is making some changes!