Sunday, February 3, 2013

THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich

“Now we are gone, but as you have once sheltered in my body, so now you understand. The round house will be my body, the poles my ribs, the fire my heart. It will be the body of your mother and it must be respected the same way. As the mother is intent on her baby’s life, so your people should think of their children.” 

                 Mother Buffalo to Mooshum


The truth is in the stories. Anyone who reads the Bible knows that.

The truth is not in Paul’s pontifications. The truth is in the stories of old Abram and Sari. The truth is in the stories of David and Bathsheba. The truth is in Jesus’ story about a starving man lying at a rich man’s gate eating the dirty bread the rich man throws under his table.

The truth is in the stories. And so it is with Louise Erdrich’s The Round House.

Someone rapes thirteen-year-old Joe’s mother. The Round House describes the crime obliquely, in such a way as to make it one of the most disturbing crimes I’ve come across in “fiction.”

Joe’s father uses his knowledge of the law, the judge’s way of doing things, to try to make sense of what happened. And Joe finally, listens to Mooshum. The seemingly ancient Mooshum tells the aboriginal people’s stories as he talks in his sleep.

Joe responds in a terrible, life-changing way.

I don’t have to say much about this book. Better critics than I am have written about it. It received The National Book award. But none of that mattered to me. I knew within the first few pages that this book was different. It would be a gut-wrenchingly sad book.

I also knew I couldn’t keep reading it when Newtown happened. I had to put it aside and start it again later. It was too real, too sad, too agonizingly deep, for me to read back then.

But now I’ve read it. Now I know some of the meaning of the round house where Joe’s people held sacred ceremonies.

The round house was also where someone raped and tried to kill Joe’s mother. The round house, the purification ceremonies, and the stories themselves contain a clarifying, purifying power. Joe had to learn their meaning in a terrible, life-changing way.

What can I say about this book? If you are looking for a deep, powerful, disturbing story which is not a mystery (it is way beyond that), you might want to read The Round House.

I first read about this book in a blog called Jen's Book Thoughts. Thanks, Jen!


Naomi Johnson said...

This one has been on my list for a while. I think, thanks to your review, that I really need to read this one soon. Although your mention of Newtown worries me and makes me wonder if I will be able to cope with it.

Joe Barone said...

Naomi, I think you will be able to cope with it. I may be more sensitive to violence in well-written books because such books always bring to mind many real situations I've known pesonally over the years. After Newtown, I just didn't want to read any mysteries except humorous ones for a while.