I’d thought she was the same mother only with a hollow face, jutting elbows, spiky legs. But I was beginning to notice that she was someone different from the before-mother. The one I thought of as my real mother. I had believed that my mother would emerge at some point. I would get my before mom back. But now it entered my head that this might not happen. Some warm part of her had gone and might not return. This new formidable woman would take getting to know, and I was thirteen, I didn’t have the time. from The Round House, by Louise Erdrich
Other than the fact that she’s a damn formidable writer.
This National Book Award winning novel, published in 2012, has been compared to a modern day To Kill A Mockingbird, and I think that’s apt. It’s the story of a 13-year old boy who lives with his family on an reservation in North Dakota. Joe Coutts’ mother Geraldine is brutally attacked one spring day in 1988. She is too traumatized to discuss the event or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband Bazil (a tribal judge). Joe tries to help his mother, but she refuses to leave her bed. So he finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world of intrigue, long-held grudges, avarice, and tribal injustice.
In short, 13 year old Joe Coutts has to become an adult before he’s quite ready.
With remarkable maturity, insight and courage, Joe and his friends set out find his mother’s attacker. Their quest takes them to The Round House, a sacred place of worship for the Ojibwe. It is here that the attack took place, and the four boys eventually uncover an entire realm of secrets that lead them to exact a very personal justice.
As coming-of-age stories go, The Round House should be considered at the top of a list. It’s marvelously written, and displays amazing insight into the mind and heart of this young man. I loved the interplay and relationship between Joe and his father and mother. It felt so familiar to me as an only child – Joe’s heightened sensitivity and sense of responsibility.
The portrayal of life on the reservation with it’s many injustices was enlightening, if maddening. There is so much work yet to be done to create an equality of life style for our Native Americans, and it shames me.
The Round House was a fabulous introduction to Erdrich’s work. Since I finished it, I’ve already picked up two more of her novels, and look forward to reading them with eager anticipation.
Thanks to TLC Tours for the opportunity to read this novel.