It is a tricky thing to write politically without compromising the art of storytelling, but Louise Erdrich is uncompromising as a storyteller and decidedly political in her novel The Round House.
This is a coming of age story, which is a catch-all term we seem to use for stories about young men or women who grow into themselves over the course of a novel, but this is the language we have so this is the language we must use. At the novel’s outset, in 1988, Joe is 13 and his mom is missing, late from church. Erdrich, who is a masterful writer, communicates her absence elegantly. “Women don’t realize how much store men set on the regularity of their habits. We absorb their comings and goings into our bodies, their rhythms into our bones.” Joe and his father go looking for his mother and when they do find her, it is clear something terrible has happened—she has been raped.
In devastating prose, Erdrich puts us into Joe’s mind and heart as he watches his mother fold in on herself to cope with what has happened. He wants justice for his mother, but soon learns that for women on the reservation, there is little justice to be had. We see how this new understanding reshapes Joe as a person. The novel is both heartbreaking and haunting. It is a portrait of family, of community, and the ways people can fail one another even when they intend otherwise.