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May 30, 2013

“The Round House”

by Anne Paddock

With all my being, I wanted to go back to before all this had happened. I wanted to enter our good-smelling kitchen again, sit down at my mother’s table before she’d struck me and before my father had forgotten my existence. I wanted to hear my mother laugh until she snorted. I wanted to move back through time and stop her from returning to her office that Sunday for those files.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich was awarded the National Book Award  – an award given to one book annually in each of four categories: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and young people’s literature – in 2012. A literary work of fiction, The Round House is told from the perspective of Joe, a University of Minnesota Law School graduate looking back to the summer of 1988 when he was 13 years old. At the time Joe’s world was primarily limited to the Indian reservation in North Dakota where he lived with his father, a tribal judge, and his mother whose job in social work “was to know everybody’s secrets.”  Bike riding and hanging out with his boyhood friends consumed Joe’s days until one Sunday, when the phone rang and his mother abruptly said she had to go to her office to retrieve a file. Life was never the same after she walked out the door that day.

Joe’s mother, Geraldine Coutts is viciously attacked and raped, barely managing to escape from the attacker only to surround herself in the darkness of her room withdrawing from life and everything she loved and cared about. The trauma of the attack and the paralyzing fear overtakes his mother causing Joe to join forces with his best friends, Cappy, Zack and Angus to investigate the crime on their own in hopes of identifying a suspect.

The Round HouseMeanwhile, Joe’s father – a patient elderly man known for his rational thinking process starts his own investigation and realizes he needs Joe’s help to not only to solve the crime but to also restore the family to what they were. Joe, at first surprised at being let into his father’s confidence, rises to the occasion nothing that

not even my mother herself, cared as much as we did about my mother. Nobody else thought night and day of her. Nobody else knew what was happening to her. Nobody else was as desperate as the two of us, my father and I, to get our life back. To return to the Before. So he had no choice, not really. Eventually, he had to talk to me.

And, talk to Joe he did. Joe’s investigation takes him to the Round House, a sacred place of worship for the tribe on the reservation where he suspects the crime took place. Sifting through clues and a web of reservation characters, Joe sets upon delivering his own kind of justice to the “man whose act had nearly severed my mother’s spirit from her body.” With the impatience and intensity that characterizes youth, Joe learns of the injustices of life on an Indian reservation but instead of letting these injustices destroy him and his family, he seeks a deeper understanding through Ojibwe folklore and the people who enlighten him – his father, his grandfather, his extended family, the local priest, and his best friend, Cappy. Collectively, this group provides the reader with a coming of age story in which Joe vividly and often comically recalls as the summer that changed his life.

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