Our on-line book club recently read “Round House” by Louis Erdrich. I selected the book for our group to read as I’ve read some of her books before and heard a portion of this book read on Minnesota Public Radio.
The novel shares the story what happens to Antone, Geraldine and their 13-year old son, Joe Coutts after Geraldine is brutally raped. The family is Ojibwa and lives on a reservation in North Dakota. Joe tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her room and falls into an abyss of silence. Joe’s father is a tribal judge, but he can’t find justice. The police are not helpful. So this teenager takes matters into his own hands.
Joe is a delightful kid who was living his life with his buddies, Cappy, Zack, and Angus. When justice is slow he takes matters into his own hands. He eventually discovers the identity of Lark, the rapist. The justice system can’t Lark because a non-native cannot be charged for rape on reservations. Erdrich shared that she was motivated to write the novel because of this flaw in the law. Joe eventually shot and killed Lark and got away with the crime.
Erdrich skillfully wrapped her political motivation within the character of Joe. I didn’t feel lectured by the story; instead I became interested in what would happen. I found the novel to be a coming-of-age story about Joe. Our book club had just read Catcher in the Rye and it was easy to notice the difference between Joe and Holden Caufield as they “came-of-age.” Holden was a rich, easterner, who got thrown out of school, but knew he would get bailed out because of his class. Joe was a poor, Ojibwe who faced a world of laws that were against his people. It wasn’t hard to pick a favorite.
The book recently won the National Book Award and the Minnesota Book Award. Erdrich's story is worth reading.