Ache is the only word I can use to describe this book. From the moment a violent act is committed in the first thirteen pages, to the revenge act at the gone-sour end, I was completely involved with these characters in the bow string of their own ache. A prepubescent boy, Joe Coutts, records the tale of a horrific crime that directly affects his family and the reservation where they live. Every character is present, accountable, and important to the story, including a priest that’s the victim of war wounds and ex-girlfirends, a womanized convenience store attendant, and an old man of the tribe that tells secrets and stories in his sleep.
Not only are these characters a vibrant truth to this world, but Erdrich paints such a clear picture of the injustice of laws as they pertain to reservation land and crimes that occur against Native Americans by tribe outsiders. Bazil Coutts is a judge in the Reservation court system, when his wife, Geraldine, is brutally beaten and raped down by the local lake. While Geraldine resurfaces rarely over the next several months, she spends most of her time stuffed under bedcovers and closed off in darkness. Joe knows his mother through the uneaten plates left on the dresser or outside of the door. They get a dog for protection. His father makes him help with a garden that he claims Geraldine will eventually be interested in, and Joe and his father just wait it out. Geraldine is reluctant to share any information on the crime, and I don’t think it’s ever clear why she keeps these details so close.
I’m sure every other blog on the entire internet land space already wrote the plot of they books, so let me tell you less about the storyline and more about the ache.
Chinua Achebe brought us Things Fall Apart as the premier novel for the voice of Africa. While The Round House isn’t the premier novel about the plight of Native Americans, it is definitely one that seems more humbled, but is actually punching you in the throat as you read. There have been plenty of contemporary Native American authors that write about injustice’s faced by Native Americans and usually they’re quite amazing (Sherman Alexie comes to mind), but Louise Erdrich has done something different with this novel. Like Ta-Nehisi Coutes in his feature in The Atlantic, “The Case for Reperations,” Erdrich does not have to shout in order to be heard. She tells the winks of unfairness still causing punishment to Native American tribes. The specific case mentioned in the novel dictates which laws are allowed to be tried on Native American Reservation soil, leaving little control to the actual reservations. The law is ancient, but still used today as a way to hinder progress. The best part about this discovery for me while I was reading was that it was so subtle. It’s the underlying tone of the story.
In between the history lesson, we spend the book in the intimacy of Joe’s story. He shows the reader how he and his friends seek revenge through treasure hunting, finding a plastic doll that helps solve the case. His friends, Cappy, Angus and Zach have mini-storylines that expose the sincerity of the summers just before puberty, just before teenagehood, and just before anything else matters other than your family, whoever you call such. Cappy falls in love and is ready to tattoo her name across his bicep with an arrow shot through, Angus and Zach reveal things about their families in the sanctuary of their small circle of voices. Using the trust of his family, his Aunt’s home-cooking, his grandfathers sleep stories, and his Uncle’s convenience store getaways, Joe is able to find his peace only after thrumming his own tune of guilt. This story is brilliantly weaved, made of whispers, and teaches you something without getting lost in the education, but instead getting lost in the place, the boys, the tiny cracks in a world we’ve never thought was perfect.