The world Louise Erdrich creates in her newest novel, The Round House*, is so convincing and irresistible that, as I read it, I often found myself resenting interruptions from my own world. The novel revisits the North Dakota Ojibwe reservation that was the setting for The Plague of Doves--and, though the books are not dependent upon one another, some of the people here are ones we've met before.
The story's narrator is thirteen-year-old Antone Bazil Coutts, named after his father--he lets us know early on exactly how he feels about that: "...I'd fight anyone who put a junior in back of my name. Or a number. Or called me Bazil. I'd decided I was Joe when I was six. When I was eight, I realized I'd chosen the name of my great-grandfather, Joseph...I resented the fact that I didn't have a brand-new name to distinguish me from the tedious Coutts line--responsible, upright, even offhandedly heroic men...I saw myself as different, though I didn't know how yet..."
In the summer of 1988, Joe is shoved along the path of self-discovery--of learning all the ways he is different and some surprising ways he is the same--when his mother, Geraldine, becomes the victim of a brutal crime. As his father, a tribal judge, begins rooting through case files in hopes of finding likely suspects, Joe is drawn into the mystery and, eventually, sets off on his own seeking answers and justice that he fears will be denied by a system ruled by complicated treaties and jurisdiction claims, and tainted by deep-rooted prejudices. The consequences of his quest are, of course, unforseen and have deep impact on those closest to him and may alter forever the man he is to become.
In so many ways, The Round House is about that rough and tangled place where opposing forces rub against one another--tribal and federal laws, Ojibwe ritual and Catholicism, the spirit world and the human one, past and present, the spoken and the unspoken, betrayal and loyalty, desolation and hope. Joe, balanced uneasily as he is between adolescence and adulthood, offers a perspective that is alternately baffled and wise, terrified and swaggeringly confident. He is both very much a product of his environment and a keen observer of it.
As always, Erdrich writes beautifully about some ugly truths. Her details are rich and relevant, firmly placing the reader into the world she's created. The rhythm of her words is perfectly suited to the action of the story--there is not a clunky turn of phrase to be found. Erdrich's style does not call attention to itself, but instead frees the reader to immerse herself fully in the heart-wrenching tale.
Masked Mom's One-Word Review: Masterpiece.
*Available in stores Oct 2.
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