The Round House: Doing (it) Justice

I made the mistake of reading three books at the cottage without immediately blogging and *The Round House* was the first, so my “penetrating insights” will be somewhat dulled by the intermediary reads and days. With that said I found *The Round House* to be exceptionally good. Best I’ve read in 2013. 

The novel centres around the mystery of who raped Geraldine Coutts, and if any reason is worth giving, why such a crime takes place. In fact the novel opens with one of the most succinct and gripping opening scenes I’ve ever read. The first paragraphs give the impression of a slow, pastoral introduction, but meandering sentences give way to faster paced short sentences coupled with foreshadowing and eventually a gasping reveal of the crime: the revelation taking place – in a horrible beauty – in both form and content.

Our first person protagonist is Joe, Geraldine’s son. While Joe narrates retrospectively from a much older age, the narration aims to place us in his twelve/thirteen year old eyes: the uncertainty, helplessness, confusion and fear quintessential of this age compounded and amplified by the crime committed against his mother. The effect of this doubled narration is to give the reader a similar experience of piecing together not just the events of the crime and its resolution, but of the remainder of Joe’s life: realizing that he becomes a lawyer like his father and wondering how his experience of crime and communal justice around Geradline’s rape (and the attached crimes) shape his relationship to justice and the “justice system.”

Indeed one of the most impressive aspects of this novel is the way in which the thematic focus is neither exclusively a buldengsroman, nor a meditation on crime and punishment, nor a consideration of systems of justice, nor an exploration of Native American identity, nor a discussion of Native American and American relations. Rather the novel is all of these things woven together without undo emphasis or ceremony. That is to say, rather than hammering away at one thematic question, or casually introducing an issue like what it means to be a child growing up with trauma, the novel skillfully – indeed with genius – allows all of these questions to intermingle in the exact way they must be lived. We do not parse these questions in our own lives, putting aside growing up in order to think about our race, or putting trauma on hold to think about our gender, religion or relationship to our friends. Instead this novel allows – maybe requires – the messy interaction of all, the muddy confusion of being a teenager human being to play out in plot and character.

The provocative questions of what constitutes justice deserves its own essay and discussion. I hope – expect – that many of you will read the novel and think about what it means to “deliver justice,” about community (community writ large and small – religious communities, spiritual communities, communities of family, friends, and towns) and complicity in crimes/punishment, about the hypocrisy and INjustice of state-indigenous relationships, and the inadequacies, failures, limitations AND possibilities of state and tribal justice systems.

The novel is brilliant. An exquisitely written mystery with the crime to be solved not simply a rape case, but a case of what it means to be a just human, a just community, and a just reader.


1 Comment

Filed under American literature, Erin's Favourite Books, Fiction, Prize Winner

One response to “The Round House: Doing (it) Justice

  1. Erin, I totally agree with your review of Erdrich’s book. I read it last month and absolutely loved it (if saying you loved a book that circles around rape is acceptable …). Easily one of the best books I read all year, and I think she did such a good job of not making it a book about rape, violence, or justice.

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