Book Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

The Round House is a powerful exploration of the impact of rape on a family, focusing closely on how a teenage boy deals with the trauma and the helplessness of not being able to bring the rapist to justice. It’s set on an Indian reservation and casts some needed light on cultural and legal complexities of convicting non-Indians of crimes committed on reservations.

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you may recall that I occasionally read one of the books my twin daughters read for their high school literature classes. The books, like The Round House, are always good and usually not something I would have chosen to read myself. Other books in this category include:

Things Fall Apart
A Thousand Splendid Suns
Their Eyes Were Watching God

As you can tell from the list, many of the books are about different cultures. This is also the case with The Round House. It is rich with certain aspects of Native American culture, including storytelling, ceremonial traditions, and reservation life. Reservations have always been a little mysterious to me so I was glad to get this small, informative glimpse.

The story begins with a scene from every day life – teenage Joe is helping his dad, a tribal judge named Bazil, with some yard work. Unknown to them, Joe’s mother, Geraldine, is being brutally raped while Joe and Bazil pull saplings from their home’s foundation. Joe will soon long for these ordinary days, as his family is quickly thrown into turmoil.
Geraldine is traumatized by the assault and withdraws into silence. Joe and his father comb through court cases over which Bazil has presided, convinced the rapist is someone out to get revenge. Meanwhile, Geraldine re-engages with her family and although she can identify the rapist, she can’t remember exactly where the rape happened. This brings up issues about jurisdiction that can’t be overcome and eventually the rapist, Lark, is released from jail.

As a side note, this issue of jurisdiction was new to me. Tribes have difficulty prosecuting non-Indians who commit crimes on reservations. This is particularly problematic in rape cases – per one study, one out of three Native American women have been victimized by sexual assault and two-thirds of the perpetrators are non-Indians. It’s a real problem.

Back to the book. Lark is out of jail and continues to be a threat to Geraldine and the family. Frustrated that there is no legal recourse, Joe focuses on what he can do to remove the threat and get his family life back to some semblance of normal. I won’t tell you what he does because that would be a huge spoiler.

The book is also a coming of age story. Joe has a pack of close friends and together they roam the reservation on their secondhand bikes. It’s summer and his parents are distracted, so Joe gets away with a lot, including drinking, smoking, investigating the crime scene, finding and keeping thousands of dollars, staring at breasts, and telling fart jokes (what coming of age story would be complete without boobs and farts?).

Also woven in are themes of spirituality, revenge, traditions, community, and morality. There’s a lot going on in this book and it’s all good – good writing, good character development, good plot. And although it deals with some serious topics, it wasn’t overly heavy – there was also some lightness. I highly recommend The Round House. It was enlightening and really kept my interest.

What are you reading these days?

7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

  1. Recent reads: Chet and Ernie detective novels. I don’t usually go for murder mysteries but these are delightfully narrated by Chet the Jet, a canine police academy flunky 😊
    If you’ve ever read Watership Down, hearing things from another species is pretty engrossing!

    I’m not reading them in order and it doesn’t seem to matter. So far, “To Catch a Thief” and about to finish “The Dog who knew too much”

    Looking forward to our next Alvin Social Club!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Michelle,

    I am a huge Louise Erdrich fan, but I haven’t read The Round House. Thanks for moving this one up on my reading list! My favorite of her books is The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, but I also loved LaRose and The Plague of Doves. I just bought our daughter-in-law Erdrich’s latest book for Hanukkah – The Night Watchman – and I’m eager to hear what she says about it.

    Our kids live in Minneapolis and we were able to visit Erdrich’s independent bookstore, Bookbark Books, on a trip a few years back. It’s a lovely place – filled with interesting books and Native gifts – and lots of signed first editions! Thanks for reminding me about this great author once again. I agree there is much to learn about the reservation world.

    I’ve been listening to The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt on audiobook. It’s REALLY long (32 hours !!!), but I’m enjoying every minute. She writes in such detail it is like seeing the story unfold in real time – until she jumps forward 8 years and does it all over again. It is also a coming of age novel – starting with a violent, tragic event and what unfolds from there. I highly recommend it – half way through! 🙂

    Merry Christmas to you and your family and Happy Holidays to all the book lovers who follow this blog!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You always leave such wonderful comments, Martha! Thank you for that.

      I love when successful authors own independent book stores. Sounds like a little slice of heaven to me. I’m glad you suggested more books by this author because I definitely want to read more of her work.

      Happy Hanukkah to you and your loved ones!


  3. I recently read Erdrich’s book The Night Watchman. It was my first book by her and I really enjoyed it. It was historical fiction about life on a reservation in the 1950s and how the government was trying to take back the land even as recently as then! I think you would probably like it – I learned a lot. I’m putting The Round House on my list – it sounds great.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Liked your review as usual. The Round House has just been added to my list too. Sounds great. I am usually not successful on the yearly challenge reading list but I am game again this year. Bring it on!


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