The Round HouseThe Round House by Louise Erdrich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(this review refers to the audiobook presentation.)

just when you despair of contemporary fiction giving you an experience of real people…

The Round House tells the tale of a family’s destruction, from the (retrospective) point of view of a 13-year-old boy and asks: what is justice? and who bears responsibility when legal justice cannot be had?

Erdrich tells the tale with the clear-cut, hard-lit sense of justice all children possess, before they become muddled adults paralyzed by complexity. yet our narrator is not without nuance–teetering on adult understanding, and telling the tale in retrospect, he paints with the full range of emotion. and i do mean the full range of emotion–Erdrich is a master at examining the human heart informed by a dual cultural understanding. this tale gives us two perspectives on a horrible crime–the criminal and the tribal–as well as the simply human.

the more horrible events of the story are interspersed by scenes from everyday life, some of which, in the context of the main plot’s dark events, seem almost gratuitously comic: the old grannies with their hilariously filthy mouths; the preteen obsession with shoveling in quantities of food (the description of which is great); the odd reverberating effects of relationship in a small community. the contrast makes for a sometimes (admittedly) hallucinatory quality. yet other aspects of everydayness tend more toward nightmare, and it’s in these moments that the reader finds herself skewered by unexpected grief for these people nailed by tragedy, yet trying very hard to get along and do (if not good) ok despite it.

i’ve read i think every book Louise Erdrich has published, tracking the complex tangle of relationships among her fictional characters, the events that they are alternately in command of or overrun by, the striving and drift of their lives. i don’t think she could write a bad sentence or frame a clumsy scene if she tried, but The Last Report On The Miracles At Little No Horse was the last that struck me as this powerful, this personal, this intense.

this was the first of her books i listened to. it was an interesting experience, to hear it with non-midwestern-broadcast cadences and rhythyms, one i wholeheartedly recommend. Erdrich’s tales are not predominantly white people, and having the voice of the audiobook narrator reminding me of that fact in every utterance was a joyful thing. the tale comes across differently when one hears it told in Native American cadences, and is richer for it.