The Round House
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.
The story is told from Joe's point-of-view which makes it so much more heart-felt. Within the first few chapters Joe's mom changes from the happy mom, ready with dinner, holding the family together kind of mother. The kind of mother most of us can relate to and then quickly she is the opposite of that as she lays crumpled in her bed unable to recover from the attack.
This story gives the reader an inside look at life on a reservation; the daily ins and outs as well as the way tribal law works. Bazil torments Geraldine with questions of where, where, where did the attack occur even as she is unable to talk about any of it to her family. His sole purpose is to decipher if the attacker can be prosecuted. He wants to know so he can solve the crime and she can't tell as she does not want to relive even one second of that moment.
Joe tries to help with his mother, by tending to her, but she slaps him once as he tries to wake her and that moment he is scared for what the future holds for his family. Joe shifts his attention to trying to stay out of the house, away from his mother. Filled with great minor characters, like Sonja, his white aunt, all trying to help Joe in one way or another. The story shares a few jagged twists that eventually feed us and Joe back to his mother. There is hope that their family will prevail.
From a female perspective this story tells a crushing tale of male dominance in our society as a whole. Erdrich's story shows us how a native woman has even less of a chance for salvation through the courts as Geraldine's attacker was aware of the complexity of tribal law. Salvation must come through by other means then and that in itself is its own difficult journey as Joe shares with us.
My strong empathetic feeling toward native tribes and the terrible way in which Europeans and then Americans have punished this indigenous group was newly shocked as I learned through Erdrich's details. Just as books that relay tales of slavery and civil rights help us to understand life as a Black American so to should this book teach us to understand the plight of American tribes.
"How's your mom doing? she said, shaking her head, swiping at her cheeks.
I tried to focus now; my mother was not fine so I could not answer fine. Nor could I tell Sonja that half and hour ago I'd feared my mother was dead and I had rushed upon her and got hit by her for the first time in my life. Sonja lit a cigarette, offered me a piece of Black Jack gum.
Not good, I said. Jumpy.
Sonja nodded. We'll bring Pearl." (26)
It is always refreshing when a book is awarded a high honor and it is truly good; good for regular people to enjoy. Thank you to Louise Erdrich for writing such a human story. She owns a lovely little book store in Minneapolis, Birchbark Books.