This book has slipped through my hands more than once so I was really excited to finally read it! I missed when my first book club did this book due to my MBA orientation and I haven’t picked it up despite a few recommendations. Boy am I glad I finally got to it!
Summary from Goodreads:
One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.
While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.
Wow. This was one heck of a book! I really enjoyed it a lot more than I was anticipating. The audio was superb and I thought the story was great. At times, it’s easy to tell that a middle-aged woman is writing through the voice of a boy, but Erdrich pulled it off exceedingly well! Joe’s voice seemed authentic and I really enjoyed it. His friends were great characters and I liked seeing his mom’s journey to recovery from her tragedy.
I was happy to learn (just now from Google) that Erdrich is Ojibwe. I like that she wrote about a culture she knew intimately and taught me about the culture throughout the process. I was obviously not a young Ojibwe boy in the late 1980s, but I felt like all the details of that life were well presented to me and I could feel like I was a part of it. The characters seemed at times to be like people I knew and nothing like the people I grew up with. They were relatable because of their humanity yet unique in their cultural identity. I thought it was really well done.
Cappie was my favorite. He was so genuine and always there to help Joe when he needed help. He wasn’t afraid of the big things Joe was facing in his life and faced them with him head-on. I want to be the type of friend Cappie is (except for some of the negative encouraging, especially toward the end) to those I care about because he’s the kind of person I would want as a friend.
I’ve talked about it before on this blog, but I had an incident when I was 12 where my mom was incapacitated for about 4 months. Hers, fortunately, was not a rape but a bad bicycle accident. Still, I had to see my mom lay in a bed and not move or talk for days at a time. I related to Joe as he watched his mother fight her emotional demons after her tragedy. It’s hard as a child to see your parents in a vulnerable state and my heart went out to Joe.
It’s hard to say what part was my favorite. There were parts that were the most amusing, moving, interesting, thought-provoking, but not favorite. The book as a whole made me think a lot and I understand why so many people praised this book to me.
My friend and I were talking about this book recently and how we wish the ending had been a bit more definitive. I thought a lot of things were left open (Sonja and Whitey, Zack and Angus, Geraldine’s recovery, etc) but I felt that Cappie’s plot line was pretty well closed. I don’t want to talk too much in-depth about it here and spoil the ending, but I’m pretty sure I know what happened and how Joe ‘got away with it’ (if you read the book, I hope you know what this means).
I listened to this book on Audio and I think it affected how I felt about it. The narrator of my copy was Gary Farmer and I thought he did an amazing job of bringing the Ojibwe characters to life. He seemed to understand inflection and pronunciation of the words and the way the people spoke. The only problem I had with the audio was that Farmer’s voice put me to sleep a bit! it was so soothing that I had to switch on some heavy rock music to keep myself awake a few times. But I would say it was worth it for the amazing performance he gave.
I see two main themes in this book. The first is revenge. The whole story, Joe wants to get revenge on whoever hurt his mother. He thinks he wants to kill the man and that there’s not enough being done to find him and help his mother. He thinks that if he’s able to find the man and hurt him, his mother will be healed. We know that this is a child’s logic; his mother’s PTSD won’t be healed if the man is killed. It’s an inner problem she needs to sort through. (Slight spoilers ahead. Skip to ‘Writer’s Takeaway’ to save yourself.) When Joe’s father tries to attack the man, he is unsuccessful and injures himself. His revenge is unsuccessful. Even when Joe finally has the chance to kill him, he falters and needs a friend to help him. Revenge does not solve problems, it only creates more. Joe and his father had to learn this the hard way.
The other theme I see is loss. When Cappie lost Zelia, he’s heartbroken and will do anything to get her back. When Linda loses her brother, she’s okay with it. She has, in a sense, also lost a kidney, yet she seems fine. We can lose something close to us and not feel pain. And we can lose something new to us and it can be a crushing anguish. Loss is something different to every person. What an individual values is not something we can tell about that person immediately. We can’t anticipate what a person will feel or how they’ll react to loss and these reactions are not more or less valuable because of their severity. We all grieve in our own ways.
Writer’s Takeaway: The voice in this novel is incredible. I think the audiobook helped. The characters all had a very conversational tone, which is perfect for a book told from the perspective of a boy. I really admire Erdrich for this. She’s 60 and still writes a convincing teenager. That’s an amazing feat.
Really loved this book. A full Five out of Five stars.
Until next time, write on.
Combatting Ignorance in Erdrich’s The Round House | Stygian Caesura
The Round House: a novel by Lousie Erdrich | Francette’s Blog
A review of Louise Erdrich’s The Round House | Postcards from Purgatory