Erdrich’s writing often reflects the lives of Native Americans and The Round House is of no exception. In the very familiar Stand By Me vein- the film version of course which I like many others obsessively watched as a child and young teenager, focuses on one summer; a group of friends and their entry into adulthood due to one defining incident. The Round House is a beautiful, harrowing, coming of age novel set on a South Dakota reservation where thirteen year old Joe’s mother is brutally raped. He takes it into his own hands with the help of his friend Cappy to hunt down the perpetrator and make sure that justice is carried out. Justice however, can be interpreted in many ways and Joe’s need to catch the man who raped his mother becomes more intense and urgent as he watches his mother become a creature he no longer recognises; one that hides under her covers, refuses to eat or talk.
Erdrich, like Barbara Kingsolver delves deep into reservation life and how outside factors affect such a tightly knit community. Erdrich places great importance on family and the art of storytelling as it is the beautifully wound threads of these stories past down from generation to the next that produces a stunning tapestry which enriches the story that is unfolding, with a sense of magic.
With the violence and ugliness of the crime committed, Joe is hastily wrenched from a state of utter innocence and propelled head long into an unjust world where evil is not always punished. The shock for Joe and the reader is in how fast and swift one can cross that line into adulthood. One minute you are within the safe confines of your family, nestled deeply into a life of habit and predictability and in the next, it disintegrates into something barely recognizable.
As Joe becomes possessed by the crime or by what his grandfather calls the “wiindigoo”, Erdrich’s The Round House reveals how a crime against one person can be a crime against an entire community. This intensely emotional narrative is a summer “must read” if not for the addictive and rapid moving story, then for its beautiful style at least.