My longtime book club has always had a strong interest in Louise Erdrich. She is an incredible writer, has a great personal story with roots in Minnesota and owns a neat book store near Lake of the Isles. She also has SIX children, 3 adopted and 3 biological. When her husband, Michael Dorris committed suicide in 1997 after famously writing about their adopted children, we all followed the news stories very closely.
We read her book that came out that year following his death, “The Antelope Wife” and I also read “The Master Butcher’s Singing Club.” So I think it’s safe to say I am a Erdrich fan. Her most recent book “The Round House” also won the National Book award and once again she captured our interest.
“The Round House” is a coming of age story set in North Dakota at a ficticious Indian Reservation. The main character is Joe, a 13 year old boy whose mother is brutally raped. This tragic event impacts his whole extended family and Erdrich paints a vivid picture of life on the Reservation in this small tribal community as the crime unfolds.
Joe is determined to find the criminal to restore justice and the novel becomes a bit of a detective story. We see the events through the eyes of Joe and we are brought back to our own early teenaged years. Eventually, through careful detective work which includes eavesdropping on adult conversations Joe determines who committed the crime.
I won’t spoil the ending but I will share that my favorite parts of the book are the normal day to day observations that Joe makes about his life. When describing his parents finally returning to a normal life he says: “I heard them enter their bedroom, the way they always had before. I heard them shut their door with that final small click that meant that everything was safe and good.”
This book had an interesting plot and good characters, but most impressive is Erdrich’s ability to draw us into the story through great dialogue and observation of mundane life events. In the meantime, you learn a lot about Native American culture and in the afterward she continues to educate us about the violent crimes against women in the Indian Community.
Erdrich drew me in with a headline grabbing divorce and the suicide of her husband. But she has kept me over the years with her high quality writing.