Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

A boy confronts evil in the world

This was partly an issue novel, designed to publicize a serious social problem, in this case the appalling confusion of police and judicial authorities on Native American reservations, resulting, among other things, in thousands (?) of rape suspects walking away scot free, without fear of arrest, prosecution or punishment. The Round House is the story of Joe Coutts, who recounts the story of his family when he was thirteen years old. That summer, his mother is brutally raped, but she is unable to identify the rapist, as well as exactly where she was raped. This, of course, has a huge impact on the investigation. She falls into a deep depression, which frightens her husband and Joe. Over time, though, she identifies her assailant. Then Joe has to figure out what to do.

I had mixed feelings about this book. Beautiful writing and vivid characters, such as the folklore telling Grampa and the priest who was horribly burned in Iraq, bump up against a hastily thrown together plot.  The ending felt tacked on. The whole endeavor felt rushed. And also, I did not understand Joe’s dilemma of revenge and so could not get into what he was feeling. He seemed too young to understand what was happening, both emotionally and legally. His father, a tribal judge, was there to explain the legal part, but that wasn't very compelling for the reader.

This also has to be one of the most unambiguous rape plot of all time – a saintly educated mom gets brutally raped by a monstrous white supremacist. That is perhaps why it was hard for me to believe that nothing could be done to prosecute the man, and therefore motivate Joe to do what he did.

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