For 2013, I have resolved to give myself more time to read and think about books. So, for this year, these book postings will not necessarily be every week. In honor of this new resolution, I finished The Round House in the last days of 2012 and then promptly read it again. It was that good. I wanted to try to more fully understand how she wrote it.
This is a coming of age story set in the late eighties in North Dakota on a reservation. Joe is thirteen years old. One Sunday afternoon, his mother, Geraldine, drives off to pick up some work from her office. When she returns home again, the boy and his father, Bazil, have to rush her to the hospital. She has been raped. She has been beaten. She smells of gasoline. She is lucky to be alive.
In the months that follow, Geraldine is slow to recover. She regains her physical health, but mentally she is broken. She stays in isolation upstairs in the house. Joe and his father, who is a judge, work to figure out who did this and how justice can be served.
The book works on different levels. It is a mystery. It is full of suspense and has plenty of action. It is a political book. In the Afterword, Erdrich specifically addresses the issues of injustice that permeate this story. One reason why I wanted to read this book again is I feel that Erdrich incorporates these issues seamlessly into her story. It helps that the father is a judge. There can be discussions about particular laws and specific cases that now make it hard for certain crimes to be legally addressed on reservations. In this way, a very knowledgeable and emotionally involved character can believably impart this information, and it makes sense in the story.
I also wanted to reread this book because I wanted to absorb how this story is structured. Most of the time, it is Joe's narrative, but at key points, the story opens up. When Joe and his father are researching who might have committed this crime, Joe is reading court documents, and for a part of the story, what we read is the report of a case that Joe has found. At another point, Joe stays with his relatives and ends up sleeping in the same room with his grandfather. His grandfather will talk in his sleep, and his stories of the ancestors take over the narrative for a while. Further on in the story, Bazil encourages Joe to talk to Linda, the only person who is able to engage with his mother. Joe sits down with Linda at their kitchen table and encourages her to speak of her life. Linda's voice then takes over the pages for a while before Joe resumes the story again.
The Round House was a way for me to experience another world. It filled me with emotion. I marveled at the beauty and the precision of the scenes. I want it to be a movie. This book won the National Book Award in 2012. It will stay with me.