Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Meghan Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich
One of Erdrich’s greatest strengths is her superb ability to create believable and multi-layered characters with complex motivations. Joe astounded me with his realness; it felt like he was breathing right there on the page! Because he is the lens through which the reader explores this world, the strength of his voice (simultaneously innocent and knowledgeable) makes the novel stand strong. His love and loyalty for his mother Geraldine is mirrored in his close relationship with his father. After her rape, Geraldine spirals into an almost catatonic depression, and Joe and his father struggle to maintain the fabric of their family unit. The poignant love between father and son and their difficulties in running a household without Geraldine are illustrated in the details, such as the slowly blackening rotten casserole in the back of their fridge or their fragile efforts at dinner conversation. Joe’s hunger for justice and his search for clues that will lead him to his mother’s rapist are melded with a vivid description of reservation life. By giving the reader a vivid and gorgeous natural setting accompanied by great supporting characters, Erdrich emphasizes the complexities of the relationships on the reservation.
Though this is a fictional story, The Round House deals with real legal problems still surrounding tribal and state jurisdictions over Native American land. Each piece of land on the reservation has a different jurisdiction, so when a crime (especially something as complicated and emotionally charged as a rape) occurs, law officials aren’t sure how to try the crime locally, or if they are even able to do so if it falls under federal territory. Joe’s story is the story of so many children of Native American mothers who have suffered terrible abuse or assault, often at the hands of non-Native men. By making this problem specific and grounded it in the experience of one boy’s coming-of-age, Erdrich has created a novel that is socially powerful, emotionally moving, and a masterpiece of literature.
Recommended to: people who love a good bildungsroman (think To Kill a Mockingbird, but more gritty), anyone curious about legality/judicial issues on Native American land, fans of crime thrillers with unlikely detectives, lovers of familial epics focused around a young narrator (The Secret Life of Bees-esque)