Review by New York Times Review
LAW is meant to put out society's brush fires, but in Native American history it has often acted more like the wind. Louise Erdrich turns this dire reality into a powerful human story in her new novel, in which a Native American woman is raped somewhere in the vicinity of a sacred round house, and seeking justice becomes almost as devastating as the crime. The round house itself stands on reservation land, where tribal courts are in charge, but the suspect is white, and tribal courts can't prosecute non-Native people. Federal law would also seem to apply, but the rape may have taken place on a strip of land that is part of a state park, where North Dakota's authority is in force, or on another that was sold by the tribe and is thus considered "fee land," administered under a separate tangle of statutes. When he hears that the judge handling the case is uncertain whether the accused man can be charged at all, the 13-year-old boy whose mother was raped pursues his own quest for justice. Narrating this gripping story years later, having himself become a public prosecutor, Joe shows how a seemingly isolated crime has many roots. In the process, this young boy will experience a heady jolt of adolescent freedom and a brutal introduction to both the sorrows of grown-up life and the weight of his people's past - "the gut kick of our history, which I was bracing to absorb." "The Round House" represents something of a departure for Erdrich, whose past novels of Indian life have usually relied on a rotating cast of narrators, a kind of storytelling chorus. Here, though, Joe is the only narrator, and the urgency of his account gives the action the momentum and tight focus of a crime novel, which, in a sense, it is. But for Erdrich, "The Round House" is also a return to form. Joe's voice - at times lawyerly, ruefully reviewing the many legal limbos of Native American history, but also searching, attuned to the subtleties of his own and others' internal lives - recalls that of Judge Antone Bazil Coutts, one of the narrators of Erdrich's masterly novel "The Plague of Doves." That's appropriate because Joe is the judge's son. In "The Round House," Erdrich has come back once again to her own indelible Yoknapatawpha, a fictional North Dakota Indian reservation and its surrounding towns, with their intricately interconnected populations. This time, we land here in the summer of 1988, when a new generation is about to come of age but old crimes, family dramas and love stories still linger in memory. If "The Round House" is less sweeping and symphonic than "The Plague of Doves," it is just as riveting. By boring deeply into one person's darkest episode, Erdrich hits the bedrock truth about a whole community. Some of the memorable characters last heard from in "The Plague of Doves" reappear. Listening to his grandfather, Mooshum, talking in his sleep, the boy learns the story of the round house that gives the novel both a crime scene and a metaphorical heart. Its shape is meant to commemorate the body of a buffalo that once provided shelter during a snowstorm for Nanapush, a young man caught in difficult circumstances (whom Erdrich readers may recognize as one of the narrators of her early novel "Tracks"). Built "to keep their people together and to ask for mercy from the Creator, since justice was so sketchily applied on earth," the round house, like Native American culture itself, has proved tragically vulnerable. Mooshum, randy as ever even though he's now claiming to be 112 years old, provides not just priceless knowledge of the old ways but welcome comic relief in a novel about deeply serious matters. And he's not alone. Grandmothers crack one another up as they embarrass teenagers with tales of an 87-year-old man who "can go five hours at a stretch." These older Native Americans, as Erdrich writes of one old lady, have "survived many deaths and other losses and had no sentiment left." Sexuality seethes underneath every plot twist, offering bliss and violence as equal possibilities. Much of the novel's suspense comes as Joe and his friends make their own first forays into the mysteries of sex, eager to be initiated into its secrets, even as they search for a man who has committed a terrible sexual crime. In trying to track down his mother's attacker, Joe is seeking an answer to the question of what makes a person turn violent - and what a society should do with violent people. Mooshum's story of the round house also involves Nanapush's mother, who is suspected of being possessed by an evil spirit, or "wiindigoo," which sometimes happens in "hungry times" and makes a person "become an animal, and see fellow humans as prey meat." As tribal tradition has it, justice in this sort of case follows its own rules, but it never wavers on the necessity of killing a true wiindigoo. Erdrich juxtaposes a tradition like this against the Roman Catholic conviction that every evil, "whether moral or material," ultimately "results in good." And she contrasts it with the legal system of the United States, which has failed Indians in the many oaths that have been broken and in the "toothless sovereignty" given to reservation authorities, as well as in what Judge Coutts labels their "jurisdiction issues." These legal black holes have created an opening for predators to operate unchecked and unpunished, a situation that, we learn in an afterword, is only beginning to be remedied after the Tribal Law and Order Act was passed in 2010. Still: Be careful, liberal-minded reader! In Erdrich's hands, you may find yourself, as I did, embracing the prospect of vigilante justice as regrettable but reasonable, a way to connect to timeless wisdom about human behavior. It wasn't until I put the book down that I recognized - and marveled at - the clever way I had been manipulated.
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [October 14, 2012]
Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* In her intensely involving fourteenth novel, Erdrich writes with brio in the voice of a man reliving the fateful summer of his thirteenth year. The son of a tribal judge, Bazil, and a tribal enrollment specialist, Geraldine, Joe Coutts is an attentively loved and lucky boy until his mother is brutally beaten and raped. Erdrich's profound intimacy with her characters electrifies this stunning and devastating tale of hate crimes and vengeance, her latest immersion in the Ojibwe and white community she has been writing about for more than two decades. As Joe and his father try to help Geraldine heal and figure out who attacked her and why, Erdrich dissects the harsh realities of an imperiled yet vital culture and unjust laws reaching back to a tragedy in her earlier novel The Plague of Doves (2008). But it is Joe's awakening to the complexities and traumas of adult life that makes this such a beautifully warm and wise novel.Through Joe's hilarious and unnerving encounters with his ex-stripper aunt, bawdy grandmothers, and a marine turned Catholic priest; Joe's dangerous escapades with his loyal friends; and the spellbinding stories told by his grandfather, Mooshum, a favorite recurring character, Erdrich covers a vast spectrum of history, cruel loss, and bracing realizations. A preeminent tale in an essential American saga. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-selling Erdrich's exceptional new novel will be actively promoted with a national tour and a coordinated blog tour as well as extensive print, radio, and social-media appearances.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Erdrich, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, sets her newest (after Shadow Tag) in 1988 in an Ojibwe community in North Dakota; the story pulses with urgency as she probes the moral and legal ramifications of a terrible act of violence. When tribal enrollment expert Geraldine Coutts is viciously attacked, her ordeal is made even more devastating by the legal ambiguities surrounding the location and perpetrator of the assault-did the attack occur on tribal, federal, or state land? Is the aggressor white or Indian? As Geraldine becomes enveloped by depression, her husband, Bazil (the tribal judge), and their 13-year-old son, Joe, try desperately to identify her assailant and bring him to justice. The teen quickly grows frustrated with the slow pace of the law, so Joe and three friends take matters into their own hands. But revenge exacts a tragic price, and Joe is jarringly ushered into an adult realm of anguished guilt and ineffable sadness. Through Joe's narration, which is by turns raunchy and emotionally immediate, Erdrich perceptively chronicles the attack's disastrous effect on the family's domestic life, their community, and Joe's own premature introduction to a violent world. Agent: Andrew Wiley. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Set on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota in 1988, Erdrich's 14th novel focuses on 13-year-old Joseph. After his mother is brutally raped yet refuses to speak about the experience, Joe must not only cope with her slow physical and mental recovery but also confront his own feelings of anger and helplessness. Questions of jurisdiction and treaty law complicate matters. Doubting that justice will be served, Joe enlists his friends to help investigate the crime. VERDICT Erdrich skillfully makes Joe's coming-of-age both universal and specific. Like many a teenage boy, he sneaks beer with his buddies, watches Star Trek: The Next Generation, and obsesses about sex. But the story is also ripe with detail about reservation life, and with her rich cast of characters, from Joe's alcoholic and sometimes violent uncle Whitey and his former-stripper girlfriend Sonja, to the ex-marine priest Father Travis and the gleefully lewd Grandma Thunder, Erdrich provides flavor, humor, and depth. Joe's relationship with his father, Bazil, a judge, has echoes of To Kill a Mockingbird, as Bazil explains to his son why he continues to seek justice despite roadblocks to prosecuting non-Indians. Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 4/23/12.]-Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by School Library Journal Review
Adult/High School-Sovereign nation status, racism, and perseverance are the prominent themes in this exceptional novel told from the vantage point of Joe, an Ojibwe boy whose mother has been raped. Set in 1988 in North Dakota, this is an especially timely story as society considers legislation on violence against women. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Erdrich returns to the North Dakota Ojibwe community she introduced in The Plague of Doves (2008)--akin but at a remove from the community she created in the continuum of books from Love Medicine to The Red Convertible--in this story about the aftermath of a rape. Over a decade has passed. Geraldine and Judge Bazil Coutts, who figured prominently in the earlier book, are spending a peaceful Sunday afternoon at home. While Bazil naps, Geraldine, who manages tribal enrollment, gets a phone call. A little later she tells her 13-year-old son, Joe, she needs to pick up a file in her office and drives away. When she returns hours later, the family's idyllic life and Joe's childhood innocence are shattered. She has been attacked and raped before escaping from a man who clearly intended to kill her. She is deeply traumatized and unwilling to identify the assailant, but Bazil and Joe go through Bazil's case files, looking for suspects, men with a grudge against Bazil, who adjudicates cases under Native American jurisdiction, most of them trivial. Joe watches his parents in crisis and resolves to avenge the crime against his mother. But it is summer, so he also hangs out with his friends, especially charismatic, emotionally precocious Cappy. The novel, told through the eyes of a grown Joe looking back at himself as a boy, combines a coming-of-age story (think Stand By Me) with a crime and vengeance story while exploring Erdrich's trademark themes: the struggle of Native Americans to maintain their identity; the legacy of the troubled, unequal relationship between Native Americans and European Americans, a relationship full of hatred but also mutual dependence; the role of the Catholic Church within a Native American community that has not entirely given up its own beliefs or spirituality. Favorite Erdrich characters like Nanapush and Father Damien make cameo appearances. This second novel in a planned trilogy lacks the breadth and richness of Erdrich at her best, but middling Erdrich is still pretty great.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.