I received this book free from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.The Round House by Louise Erdrich
Published by HarperCollins on October 2nd 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery
Source: TLC Book Tours
Also by this author: Future Home of the Living God
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, Zack, 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.
‘The sun fell onto the kitchen floor in golden pools, but it was an ominous radiance, like the piercing light behind a western cloud.’
In 1988, thirteen year old Joe is forever changed when he and his father come home to find his mother covered in blood. She had been attacked, but she managed to get away to safety. Joe is unable to understand the difficulty behind getting a conviction even though his mother knows exactly who attacked her. The root of the problem lies in not knowing exactly where she was attacked. The approximate location is an area that happens to be so divided that tribal, federal, and state all claim ownership to various pieces. Since the exact location is unknown her attacker can’t be prosecuted if its unclear as to what laws would apply.
The story was told from the point-of-view of Joe, a teenager, and one having a hard time coming to terms with the changes his life is currently undergoing. He begins drinking and smoking with his friends more often and being a generally rebellious teen. Joe’s mother wasn’t the only one forever transformed from the attack, his transformation was just less obvious to others.
‘We read with a concentrated intensity. My father had become convinced that somewhere within his bench briefs, memos, summaries, and decisions lay the identity of the man whose act had nearly severed my mother’s spirit from her body. With all that we did, we were trying to coax the soul back into her. But I could feel it tug away from us like a kite on a string. I was afraid that string would break and she’d careen off, vanish into the dark.’
Joe’s father is a local tribal judge and shortly after the attack he begins bringing case documents home for research purposes and enlists Joe’s help. He becomes dismayed to find that his father didn’t handle cases of great importance but rather small and petty cases that seemed more like a waste of time. His father explains to him:
“We are trying to build a solid base here for our sovereignty. We try to press against the boundaries of what we are allowed, walk a step past the edge. Our records will be scrutinized by Congress one day and decisions on whether to enlarge our jurisdiction will be made. Some day. We want the right to prosecute criminals of all races on all lands within our original boundaries. Which is why I try to run a tight courtroom, Joe. What I am doing now is for the future, though it may seem small, or trivial, or boring, to you.”
I’ve seen it done before (and I have no idea why) where quotation marks are left out entirely. I would often read a passage and think it’s internal dialogue when in fact it’s an actual conversation so I would have to go back and re-read the entire passage to be in the right frame of mind. I’m really not clear as to what purpose it serves by leaving them out, other than confusion. My only other issue was after finishing I was left with the feeling that the book was unnecessarily long (despite it only being 317 pages long). It just felt as if there was too much information that in the end was simply irrelevant. Interesting, but ultimately irrelevant.
I enjoyed the obvious amount of research the author conducted in regards to Native American laws and culture. It made the story feel solid, sound, and very much believable. The Round House is an interesting story with a powerful message about how regardless of the centuries of change and advancement, the laws of today still have their flaws.
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