Monday, October 22, 2012
Louise Erdrich opens a door to the dark side of maturity at The Round House
Louise Erdrich's latest novel,The Round House,is set in the spring and summer of 1988 where a thirteen year old boy named Joe is all too eager to grow up but his first taste of adulthood is a bitter one indeed.
Like most of the guys his age on the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota where they live,Joe is mainly into hanging out with his friends to goof around and debate Star Trek:The Next Generation lore,not to mention observe grown up event from a safe distance. However,that option is no longer available to him when one day,his mother arrives home beaten and in shock from a violent sexual assault:
With his father being a judge,Joe is confident about getting justice for his mother in the beginning yet as time goes on,the realities of the situation slowly sink in.
Due to the limited information and evidence regarding the crime,the chances for the man who did this(and it's some time before a real suspect can be determined)to face any sort of legal consequences become slim to none.
In addition,it's hard to determine under whose authority the case can be properly investigated and prosecuted at all,since no one is sure if the assault took place on state,federal or Native American land. Joe is no stranger to prejudice against his people but when it hits that close to home,the harsh ugliness of it is harder to bear:
With his family slowly falling apart and the indignity of having this crime,which has more than one victim,go unavenged,Joe decides to seek justice on his own. The only help he can count on comes from his friends,who are supportive but even that assistance comes at a higher price than any of them expected.
Louise Erdrich is known for her vivid storytelling and emotional portraits of Midwestern life,particularly of Native Americans,yet here she reaches a new artistic level of literature.
In one novel,she captures the severe devastation that a rape can bring to a family,along with the inequities of the legal system and how a young person struggles to find a sense of purpose amidst the chaos that his elders are resigned to. That's not an easy thing to pull off for any artist and yet Erdrich does it with the hard earned grace that a writer of her caliber has honed over the years, the kind that some might be foolish to think is effortless.
She also shows true insight into the mind of a teenage boy and how the bonds of friendship that he makes are just as strong as his family ties,in some instances even more so:
The Round House may sound like a sad read but there are moments of joy within it's pages,as the family life of the Ojibwe people is celebrated with all of it's benefits and flaws. This book is a mixture of sorrow and nostalgia for a time of innocence once lost and never really recovered,something that can be appreciated by more than one generation of readers.
The book is currently a Best Fiction nominee at the National Book Awards,with the winners to be announced on November 14. The Round House flat out deserves to win and I hope that judges agree with me on that by the time the awards are handed out.
This heartfelt tale of retribution and the seemingly endless search for forgiveness is a a true national treasure that will enhance public and private libraries for a long time to come and it would be nice to see such a literary gem honored in it's time:
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