The Round House

Introduction

The Round House is a novel by American writer Louise Erdrich, first published in 2012. It is her 14th novel. Some critics considered it a thematic sequel to Erdrich's 2008 novel The Plague of Doves due to its themes of revenge.[1] Like most of Erdrich's other works it is set on an unnamed Indian reservation in North Dakota.

It won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2012.

Plot summary

In North Dakota in the spring of 1988, 13 year-old Ojibwe Joe Coutts, the only son of aging parents, learns that his mother, Geraldine, has been brutally raped. At the hospital his father Bazil, a tribal judge on the reservation, quickly enlists the county, federal, and tribal police to take statements from his wife. Geraldine was raped near the round house, a spiritual place on reservation land that is surrounded by land under multiple jurisdictions. Joe and his friends go to the round house to try to find evidence that the police might have missed. On this mission Joe locates an empty gas can that had been tossed into the lake at the bottom of the hill.

Geraldine falls into a deep depression after the rape. Bazil confides in Joe that he believes the rape might have had something to do with a case he once presided over. Among other cases, he shows Joe the case of Linda Wishkob, a white woman who had been abandoned by her family because of her birth defects. Linda was subsequently adopted into the Wishkob (Ojibwe) family and lived with them on reservation land. Joe cannot make a connection between this case and his mother's rape, but he gradually learns that Linda's birth mother later re-established contact with her in order to procure her kidney for Linda's twin brother, Linden Lark, who grew up to be a violent racist drunk.

As Geraldine sinks further into depression, Joe begins to spend more time with his uncle Whitey and his aunt (by marriage) Sonja, a former stripper, for whom Joe lusts. Sonja treats him almost as an adopted son, and the two grow close. When one day Joe is out looking in the water he notices a doll. Picking it up out of the water, he removes the head and discovers forty thousand dollars in cash stuffed inside the doll. He takes the money to Sonja, and she helps him distribute the money amongst various banks, making him promise he will use it for his education. However, shortly after this exchange, Sonja uses the money to buy herself presents.

Geraldine begins to finally talk about her rape after she learns that there is a man trying to adopt an orphaned Native American baby of unknown provenance. She reveals that a woman named Mayla Wolfskin (Ojibwe) contacted her the day she was raped, telling her that she was being pursued. Mayla asked to meet at the round house where they were each attacked by Linden Lark. Linden told Geraldine that he would murder both Mayla and the baby if she told anyone about the attack or attempted to save herself. However, Geraldine was able to run away from him, and she now feels guilty about what might have happened to Mayla. Based on the details Geraldine shares, Joe realizes that the money from the doll belongs to Mayla.

Based on Geraldine’s testimony in court, Linden is arrested, and for a time the Couttses slowly work toward restoring their lives. But Joe accidentally comes across Sonja giving a birthday present to his grandfather, Mooshum, in the form of a lap dance. Joe confronts her, and Sonja rebukes him for being another man interested only in her body. She leaves the reservation and takes most of the money from the doll with her.

Shortly after this, Linden Lark is freed from jail. Though Geraldine tries to stay strong, it becomes clear that Linden is interested in harassing her. The tribe identifies Linden as a Wendigo whose existence threatens the tribe, and he must be neutralized. When Bazil sees him at the grocery store, he and Joe attack Linden. In the commotion, Bazil suffers a heart attack. While Bazil recovers in a hospital in Fargo, friends and family of the Couttses find Linden and beat him as a warning. Linden is not shaken by the beating and tells Whitey that he knows where Sonja is and will get her money. After Geraldine learns that Linden is unlikely to be stopped, she tells Joe that she will protect the family. Joe realizes that trying to stop Linden will kill Geraldine. He resolves to murder Linden himself, knowing that if he is caught he will be punished as a juvenile offender. Joe tells his best friend Cappy of his plan, and Cappy supports him. Cappy teaches Joe how to shoot and comes up with a plan to procure a gun. Joe plans to murder Linden while he is out golfing in the early morning. After waiting for Linden for days, Joe finally sees him and shoots him twice, non-fatally. Ultimately Cappy, who Joe had not told his specific plans to, appears in the golf course and delivers the fatal shot to Linden.

Though Joe’s parents, uncle Whitey, and Linda (the deceased’s biological sister) all suspect that Joe killed Linden, they are careful not to ask Joe too many questions. They go out of their way to protect him from the police. Later Cappy receives a letter from his Mexican/American girlfriend Zelia’s parents in Montana asking him not to contact her anymore. Cappy steals a car, and he and Joe go to see Zelia. They get into a car accident in which Cappy is killed, and Joe’s parents come to take him back home.

Characters

Main characters

  • Antone (Joe) Coutts
  • Antone (Bazil) Coutts
  • Geraldine Coutts
  • Cappy
  • Uncle Whitey
  • Sonja
  • Mayla Wolfskin
  • Linden Lark
  • Linda Lark Wishkob

Secondary characters

  • Grandma Ignatia
  • Mooshum
  • Clemence
  • Uncle Edward
  • Father Travis
  • Randall
  • Angus
Reception

The novel was positively reviewed. In 2015 it was included in The Oyster Review's list of "100 Best Books of the Decade So Far".[2]

The New York Times review can be found here.

Awards and honors
  • 2012 National Book Award for Fiction (winner)[3]
  • 2013 Minnesota Book Awards for Novel & Short Story (winner)[4]
  • 2013 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction (finalist)[5][6][7]
References
  1. ^ Williams, John. "The Burden of Justice: Louise Erdrich Talks About 'The Round House'". Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  2. ^ "100 Best Books of the Decade So Far". Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  3. ^ "Louise Erdrich, The Round House - National Book Award Fiction Winner". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  4. ^ "Winners & Finalists". Minnesota Book Awards. Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library. Archived from the original on April 20, 2013. Retrieved 25 April 2013. 
  5. ^ Bill Ott (June 30, 2013). "Richard Ford and Timothy Egan Win Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction". Booklist. Retrieved March 17, 2014. 
  6. ^ Annalisa Pesek (July 3, 2013). "2013 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction". Library Journal. Retrieved March 17, 2014. 
  7. ^ "ALA Unveils 2013 Finalists for Andrew Carnegie Medals". Publishers Weekly. April 22, 2013. Retrieved March 17, 2014. 
Sources
  • Erdrich, Louise (2012). The Round House. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 978-0-06-206524-7. 
Preceded by Salvage the Bones Jesmyn Ward National Book Award for Fiction 2012 Succeeded by The Good Lord Bird James McBride

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