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Book Review

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Louise Erdrich, The Round House

  • 2012
  • | Publisher: HarperAudio

A wrenching look at the grey areas of justice, sex, family and ethnic identity.

Returning to the some of the same characters and geographies as in her 2008 novel The Plague of Doves, Louise Erdrich’s National Book Award-winning The Round House is a wrenching work centered on three members of the Native American Coutts family in the aftermath of the rape of Geraldine Coutts, wife of tribal judge Bazil and mother of Joe.

In a departure from Erdrich’s prior novels, The Round House’s sole narrator is the 13-year-old Joe, voiced with honesty and conviction by Canadian First Nations actor Gary Farmer (best known for his featured role as Nobody in Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 acid western Dead Man). As his mother’s rape forces Joe to try to reconcile his own teenage desires with the reality of sexual violence, the crime finds itself in a dead zone of prosecution due to the overlapping jurisdictions of tribal, state, and federal law. The Coutts must balance their need for closure with their longtime efforts toward tribal sovereignty. As the investigation drags on, Joe remarks of his mother that “with all that we did, we were trying to coax the soul back into her. But I could feel it tug away from us like a kite on a string. I was afraid that string would break and she’d careen off, vanish into the dark.”

While Erdrich’s prose offers a compelling look at the grey areas of justice, sex, love, family and ethnic identity, in the end it is Farmer’s narration that truly allows the Coutts’s North Dakota reservation to creep slowly under your skin until you feel an integral – if silent – part of the community.

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