If you’ve read Louise Erdrich’s The Plague of Doves (2008), the name “Coutts” will probably ring a bell. In her newest book, The Round House, Erdrich returns to familiar grounds and picks up where Geraldine and Bazil Coutts left off. Now married and the parents of a twelve year old boy named Joe, the happy family’s life is shattered when Geraldine is brutally assaulted one evening somewhere within the premises of the Ojibwe reservation where they live.
When all of this happens, it’s 1988 and Joe is eager to be treated like an adult. He and his friends are barely coming of age and trying to navigate this tricky passage into adolescence. After his mother is attacked, Joe is forced to grow up quickly, regardless of how much information Bazil tries to keep from him. Meanwhile, his mother is traumatized and depressed, isolating herself from everyone and refusing to divulge any information about what happened.
Bazil is a tribal judge and feels that the attack had something to do with him; he hesitantly enlists Joe to help him pore through old case files to look for anyone who might have a serious grudge against him. What emerges are several harsh truths about life on a Native American reservation: the investigation is hindered by federal, state, and local laws (which, naturally, ties the hands of the tribal law enforcement, even though the crime happened on their land). When the attacker’s motive begin to come together, even more complex layers of injustice are added to the mix. And through it all is our young narrator: scared, angry, confused, and wanting nothing more than for his mother to feel safe again.