The Round House is told from the adult perspective of Joe, a Native American who grew up on a reservation in North Dakota. When he was thirteen, his mother was brutally attacked; the book is a coming of age story in the wake of extreme trauma, following Joe and his three best friends as they try to take matters into their own hands and find the answers the adults in their lives are unwilling–and unable–to give them.
Erdrich is a brilliant writer, tackling a difficult subject with grace and a directness that really drives home her point without ever becoming preachy. Her descriptions are powerful and raw and some of them (particularly those surrounding the attack) were so unflinchingly honest and realistic that I had to put the book down for a few minutes before continuing on. She excels at voice, recreating the tone and dialect of her characters vividly and memorably. Her characters themselves are incredibly compelling and interesting, particularly Joe, who is smart and sweet and a completely believable thirteen year old. His characterization really benefits from the use of his adult perspective to frame the narrative; we’re given the benefit of his hindsight and his mature understanding of the events that defined his coming-of-age, but we also experience the shock and confusion he had to deal with as a child.
This is a thematically heavy book and is definitely kind of a downer, but it’s a book that really examines complex issues such as race, violence, and manhood in a unique way. Despite the depressing subject matter, it’s a really quick read–it’s hard to put down.
Overall, I highly recommend it!