The Round House by Louise Erdrich is a stunning exploration of the laceration of pain, the deep bruising and scarring caused by violation. In The Round House, the violation is of a woman and mother: told from the point of view of the son, the impact of the assault and its aftermath on the family is heartbreaking. The Round House is also about the embedded history of violation that is the legacy of the community in which the family lives, and of the Native American experience. Taking, violating, degrading: these verbs apply to the boy’s mother, but also to all of his relations and friends and ancestors. There is a legacy of abuses on display in The Round House and a panoply of pain. But there is also an abundance of love, humor, and affirmation.
The situation of the family following the assault, and the circumstances that led to the assault in the first place, raises the fundamental question of justice. Erdrich explores the question on many levels: the legal question of jurisdiction when a crime occurs on Tribal Land; the moral question of who must act when the law won’t; the Native American question of “Windigo”, the justified response to hostile intentions or evil actions; and the gut-wrenching question of who bears responsibility for protecting love, peace, and security.
Is justice possible? Or is only endurance possible? And if endurance is untenable, what then? Erdrich asks all of these questions and answers them, not easily or prettily or neatly, and not with any finality. But she does answer them with portraits, rich and deep and unforgettable, of characters, landscapes, legends, and histories. The Round House is Erdrich as her very best, a masterful story teller who makes us question our beliefs (what we think is true about justice, government, faith, family) and confirm our choices (this is how legends are made): creation over destruction, love over hate, and endurance over all.