The Round House, Louise Erdrich, HarperCollins Publishers, 2012, 317 pp
I wish I could say I have read all of Louise Erdrich's novels. She has written 14 for adults and 6 for children. I've read 3 of the adult novels, one of the children's, and each time I have finished with a sense of fulfillment and of having had some of the mysteries of life made clear. I can't ask for more from an author.
That Erdrich won the National Book Award for The Round House was a wonderful, if somewhat long in coming, acolade. I suppose the award led to the novel being chosen for the Tournament of Books. She has written another masterpiece.
Let's say you are a member of that utterly dispossessed segment of America known these days as Native American. Then let's say you are female, educated, a wife and mother, as well as dedicated to keeping good records of the parentage of all children in your community. I would call such a woman a saint, a rare and vital link of spiritual proportions between the past and the future. Let's say that you were brutally raped and survived due to equal parts chance and bravery.
That is the story of Geraldine Coutts. The Round House is the story of thirteen-year-old Joe Coutts and his quest to solve the crime spurred on by his devotion to his mother. I suppose such a story has been told before in novels, but this is the res. The law does not fully apply there so Joe must go outside the restraints that cripple his father, a tribal judge, in finding any justice for Geraldine. As Bob Dylan says, "To live outside the law you must be honest."
As usual in a Louise Erdrich novel, there are numerous threads, so the story is rich with tribal lore, reservation survival tactics, and intricate webs of family relations and loyalties. All of this plays out in what amounts to another world juxtaposed with contemporary American life.
Joe is one of Erdrich's better creations. You would think she had once been a thirteen-year-old boy. The incessant hunger, the sexual urges and antics, the primal love for his mom, and the bravery of an Indian on the cusp of manhood. It is enough to break your heart. It broke mine, but also filled it with thanks because I too have good sons.
(The Round House is available in hardcover on the shelf at Once Upon A Time Bookstore. The paperback will be released on 4/13/2013.)