On many levels, it’s easy to see why Louise Erdrich’s novel The Round House won the 2012 National Book Award. One reviewer has likened it to being the Native American To Kill a Mockingbird. The big ideas in the novel are certainly compelling, but when certain narrative elements are looked at in isolation, the novel may fall a bit flat for some readers.
Much like Harper Lee’s classic novel, Erdrich’s The Round House is a coming-of-age story in which an older protagonist looks back on a life-changing event. Joe, now an Objiwe lawyer, reflects on the brutal rape of his mother on a North Dakota Indian Reservation and how the ordeal forever changes his family. His father is a tribal judge and his mother is a tribal clerk, as such they know a lot about the reservations residents, and grudges are bound to ensue.
Joe is only thirteen, and not fully aware of all the details surrounding his mother’s case, though he is keenly observant. He grows frustrated with the lack of progress his father is able to make. Joe becomes intent on solving the case and employs the help of his friends.
Though labeled a thriller, The Round House builds slowly and deliberately. As a piece of literary fiction it offers insightful commentary on the intricate ways the jurisdiction of the reservation often conflicts with the laws of the federal government, thus making justice often hard to achieve. At times, the author is a bit too didactic, and the story loses some of its organic flow.
The sheer number of characters also presented issues in enabling the reader to fully immerse themselves in the story simply because there are so many people to try to keep track of. Also, some readers will be put-off by the author’s lack of quotation marks to convey spoken dialog in The Round House. At times Erdrich’s prose is striking; at other times, not so much.
By the end of the book, Joe’s actions in seeking justice for his mother’s rape border on revenge. However, justice is not always black and white, and the book’s ending drives that point home. All in all, The Round House is worth the read, though the slower pace and occasional tangents into Indian affairs can make the read less than thrilling, it always remains interesting.
What similar coming of age books have you read? What books would you classify as interesting, but still a slow read?
You can connect with Louise Erdrich via the website for her independent bookstore Birchbark Books.
For more insight, read my Book Review Criteria. Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2013.
Wow, I’m reading a lot of Native American books right now (mostly non-fiction) so this might be a good one to add to the list. As far as my slow but interesting book… I think I have to go with The Rise and Decline of the British Empire.. more non-fiction of course, but it was a really great (but long) book.
Dan, since you’re reading books with a Native American focus I definitely recommend anything written by Sherman Alexie.
I tend to take my time with books anyway, so it seems like most books are slow to me.
The lack of quotes would throw me off. I would end up spending more time trying to figure out how that works instead being immersed in the story.
Jon, the author’s choice not to use quotes to convey dialogue threw me off a bit in this book, but it doesn’t phase me at all when I read works by Cormack McCarthy who does the same thing. Part of it may be due to how it looks on the page. McCarthy’s prose is so lean, whereas I felt the prose to be a bit bloated at times in Erdrich’s book.
I suspect that this is one I will give a pass. Unless you Jeri are thrilled with a book I tend to give it a pass. 🙂
Cheryl, yep I wasn’t thrilled with this one, but I’m still glad I read it, and I can appreciate what worked and what didn’t work for me as a reader. I’ve encountered a few people now that feel work by this author can be at times confusing, other times beyond compare. Though I guess that could be said for many writers…
I’ve heard of this book and have it on my reading list based on a few friends who’ve recommended it. Now you have given me more reason to do so.
Susan, as a National Book Award winner, The Round House is a good one to keep on your list.
Hm, I will certainly take a peek at the book. Even though your review is a bit tepid, you get me interested.
Leora, I did veer toward the tepid side in my overall reaction, but The Round House does carry plenty of literary merit. I know I’m interested in reading more of Erdrich’s work now to decide if she fully appeals to me.
I like these types of books and this one sounds a good read. Thanks for your reviews Jeri as I find them more helpful than the usual ones.
Susan, thank you 🙂 I do try to find a balance between writing for both readers and writers in that I aim to be critical, but in a user-friendly way.
Nice review. Sounds like a great book!!
Krystle, my review of the book is more along the lines of it was merely okay, though many have deemed it a great novel. Aferall, The Round House did win the National Book Award, but it wasn’t my cup of tea 😉
I love to read so I might look into this book although it is not my normal interest in a book. It is nice to have someone like you review it first.
Arleen, isn’t it great how possible books to read can find us at the least likely of times?
Putting this on my summer reading list.
Trinidad, let me know if you like it.
sound intriguing, although not highly rated. Like To Kill a Mockingbird, so maybe that helps? Will add it to my list of books to read on my next vacation!!
Ashley, coming from me, a 3.75 really isn’t that low of a rating. I tend to be pretty hard on books!
You always choose very interesting books to review. I am particularly interested in this book because it delves into another culture. What I am afraid of, however, is the use of too many characters you spoke of. If there is one thing I can’t stand when I read, it is trying to keep track of all of the characters while keeping up with the plot.
Mary, you would probably like Erdrich’s book well enough. The number of characters isn’t on the confusing side, but it did strike me as unnecessary to have so many in that it weakened the plot a bit.