The Round House by Louise Erdrich
A Chippewa boy’s mother is raped, but the perpetrator can’t be prosecuted effectively because of the complexities associated with jurisdiction on the rez. He and his friends, a largely indistinguishable collection of teen boys, live their lives and plot revenge while hanging out with various people who tell them old indian stories. There’s a couple of violent moments of climax and extremely little falling action.
The writing is highly uneven; most of the lyricism that Erdrich exhibited in some of her earlier work seems to be lacking here. Much of the language is borderline wooden, and the regular intrusion of italicized Chippewa words feels a bit forced, detracting from both the language and the narrative. Worse, the beautiful tangled web of intersecting lives which characterize the inbred relationships of the reservation are sacrificed on the altar of plot and structure here. The whodunit and procedural pontifications ultimately distract from the bits that make this interesting: the lives of three young friends on the reservation.
I quite respect Erdrich, and am loathe to disagree with a National Book Award committee, but in this case, I found the characters either stock clichés or largely forgettable, the language uninspired, the plotting obtrusive, and the overall package just plain dull much of the time. Dissapointing, but only because I thought so highly of some of her other work.
In short, as tale of crime and punishment, this would never make it into the top 50 tales. As a reflection on the modern experience of reservation dwellers in this strange new century, this falls quite short. As a coming of age tale, not in the top 500. As top native American fiction… but then, there’s the rub isn’t it? At the point where that’s what I’m looking for, (and it still wouldn’t beat her earlier work, or anything by Leslie Marmon Silko, or..) then I’m having to look for something good to say about a book that really just didn’t do much for me.