Book Review: 'The Round House' by Louise Erdrich

A knockout story as featured in the October 2012 issue

by Pam Houston
the round house book image
Photograph: Avery Powell

On the summer afternoon when his mother is raped on the outskirts of their Ojibwe community, 13-year-old Joe Coutts is catapulted into adulthood so quickly and entirely, the change leaves him breathless. His mother retreats to the silence of her bedroom; his father, a local judge, gets mired in the limitations the federal government places on the tribal justice system he has fought to uphold all his life; and Joe is left alone to protect his mother, avenge her violation and salvage what he can of his family’s happiness and sense of safety. He relies on his intelligence, his wry sense of humor, the stories of his elders and his dreams, which, along with ghosts and visions, are in Erdrich’s world as much a part of daily life as a box of Cheerios. (“The ghost had come for my mother, or to tell me something,” Joe says of a spectral visitor. “The last thing I want to know is something that a ghost wants to tell me.”) He also leans on his best friend, Cappy, who has his back when it really matters and who teaches him that even when your parents fail you, someone else in the community will hold you up. Like Erdrich’s other novels, The Round House gives us entrée into a whole new way of configuring reality and invites us to witness the particular warmth and tenacity of the Ojibwe women in the face of a tangled bureaucracy that lets them down again and again. 

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Next: Book Review: 'May We Be Forgiven' by A.M. Holmes

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First published in the October 2012 issue

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