Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

The Round House  by Louise Erdrich, a Minnesota author sounded interesting but tragic; published in 2012 by Harper Collins, 321 pages.   It relates the tale of  brutality and hardship, beginning innocently in 1988 as a boy and his father wait for mom/wife to return home in North Dakota on an Indian reservation.  The brutal attack of a Native woman weaves the tale.  This prolific MN  author is a member of the Turtle Mountain band of Chippewa and has written many books, articles and poetry.  

 I was disappointed in this  book and regretted that I had purchased a hard copy although it was not available in paperback.  I will be donating it to our local Library where it will either make the shelves or be passed along for the book sale. Perhaps it is the brutality and rawness that bothered me as much as some overly descriptive narrative.  The characters are very well developed and do seem all lifelike although complicated depicting difficult lives where the Ojibwe Indians and white men live together very tentatively.  

It begins, "Small trees had attacked my parents' house at the foundation.  They were just seedlings with one or two rigid healthy leaves.  Nevertheless the stalky shoots had managed to squeeze through knife cracks in the decorative brown shingles covering the cement blocks."  The writing ranges from good to adequate as the tale is told through Joe, the 13 year old son of Geraldine and Bazil Couts; Geraldine is brutally attacked and Joe tries to heal his mother but the entire family is consumed by the act.  Bazil is a tribal judge, respected but cannot attain justice for his wife. The complications of government bureaucracy and the intersection of Native rites, police investigations and conflicts between civil and Native governance  all build on the tragedy and complicate any resolution.  

Sometimes I felt there was too much detail information about the antics of Joe and his friends such as on pages 67-68 when the boys are at the Round House searching for evidence; it read almost as thought the author  tried to compensate for being female by overdoing the descriptions of the boys in their nakedness to create an over done authentic emphasis.  Another  example of the overly detailed style was on pages 106-108 when the boys are confronting and  stalking the local priest, Father Travis.      

There is interesting information about the  difficulties of tribal life, the assimilation that all but eliminates Native culture and the hard times on the reservation.  

Pg. 193 sums up the transformation in Geraldine post attack as felt by her son.  "Her voice was neutral, formal neither caustic nor falsely enthusiastic.  I'd thought she  was the same mother only with a hollow face,......I had believed that my real mother would emerge at some point.  I would get my before mom back.  But now it entered my head that this might not happen.  .....Some warm part of her was gone and might not return.  This new formidable woman would take getting to know and I was 13.  I didn't have the time.".   

 I give it a  3 stars out of 5 and read it in a week in January but am just now posting my review.