Book review: The Round House

The Round House, by Louise Erdrich

Book description: One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.

While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zach and Angus to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.

My review: It took me awhile to get to reading The Round House, and awhile longer to get through it. It’s not that it wasn’t a good book. Erdrich’s talent kind of kicks you in the face with its awesomeness. But do you ever have a book in your hands and it just feels heavy? Like, you know it’s not going to be an easy read. It might take you to places that are uncomfortable, or that you weren’t really in the mood to face down yet.

All of that was true, but it was so worth the read. Beautifully done, it can be enjoyed in many ways I think. To me, The Round House is a thriller that somehow doesn’t seem like it should be a thriller. It’s about social justice, and the frustration of knowing who the bad guy is but being incapable of doing anything about it. Until you do take justice into your own hands, and the life-altering changes that occur from your actions.

It is also a coming of age book, and the way Joe grows up over that one summer is heartbreaking. The poignancy of his situation, how he deals with the challenges suddenly overwhelming him, seems so true to me. I think this was the real strength of a very strong novel.

This book, dealing with violence against women and also how difficult it can be to deal with those issues in the justice system, touched on many of my own personal beliefs and areas of interest, having worked with a sexual assault centre and a society that helps women in conflict with the justice system. I found myself getting furious all over again reading some of this book. Often, the subject matter is unbelievable, probably all the more so because it is closer to the truth than we would like to believe. I would sometimes be reluctant to pick the book up for that very reason, but I think that’s why it’s so important of a read. Truly recommended.

Word of the day:

Non sequitur: an inference or a conclusion that does not follow from the premises; a statement containing an illogical conclusion

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