Book Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

The Round House by Louise ErdrichBefore I started this book, I wasn’t sure whether to expect a kind of mystery story, or a more general contemporary fiction story. And really, I’m still not sure. A terrible crime that is being researched, but it doesn’t take the complete focus of the book.

The focus seems more on 13-year old Joe, who, after his mother’s attack, grows up really fast. In that sense, it’s a coming of age story.

The Round House: What it is about

From the publishers’ website: “One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.

While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.”

The Round House: What I thought

The crime, a severe attack on Joe’s mother, is taken as the starting point in this book to explore the growing up in an Indian reservation, the plights and pleasures of Indians, their habits, their values, Indian vs white relations, etc. While this was interesting to read, I could not help feeling that I, the reader, was being educated about Indian life, whether I wanted to or not. It felt rather pushed onto me, and I resented that. While most of what I learned was worth knowing, it didn’t all pertain to the story of Joe, his friends, and the attack they were investigating.

The story starts with Joe’s mother having been attacked and how the family, (Joe and his parents) deal with this. Not well, it turns out: Joe and his father are left to fend for themselves while his mother locks herself up in the bedroom. Joe ends up staying at other people’s houses, and spends some night sharing a room with his old grandfather who tells him an old Indian story, a new instalment every night. I guess you like that kind of story or you don’t. I don’t. It was relevant to the main storyline, but only to a degree and only towards the end of the book. So, I didn’t have any particular interest in grandfather’s story at the time he told it.

On the other hand, I liked Joe, the main character, and hoped for him his mother would feel better soon, and also, that he would come closer to finding out who the perpetrator was. His interactions with friends, with his family, and with others were well-written and believable. He was a well-meaning boy and I felt sorry when certain expectations didn’t really work out the way he had hoped. In the end, he had to grow up really fast.

I enjoyed the book while I was reading it, but as soon as I put it down, I didn’t have a particular drive to continue with the book. I think it’s a bit of a forgettable story, unfortunately.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 336

First published: 2012

I got this book: from Harper for review

Genre: contemporary fiction

Have you read this book?

Did you enjoy it?

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

17 Responses to Book Review: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

  1. Tesney Ap says:

    What an interesting review, Judith! Do you know I have a thing for Native American 🙂 ? Whatever story setting around them is always interesting to me 🙂

  2. Alpa says:

    Dont know if I would read this book but it certainly sounds good

  3. Years ago I read a book by Erdrich (Sporen in Dutch), and I had the same feeling about it as you have about this one, Judith. Too educational in a rather forced way. It’s a shame, because the plot has a lot of potential.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Nadine, I read another book by Erdrich that I liked, The Master Butcher’s Singing Club, but that also didn’t leave a lasting impression. She’s a good writer, I think. I just didn’t find the topic interesting the whole way through.

  4. debbierodgers says:

    I’ve read a couple of Louis Erdich’s books over the course of my .lifetime. I don’t remember particularly enjoying them while I was reading, and I can’t remember either story.

    But she’s well-liked and respected, so there’s writing out there for everybody. 🙂 (Just not her for me.)

  5. Charlie says:

    The overall premise sounds good, but stories with a story are such a case of hit or miss, and this sounds a bit of a miss. Pity it has a lot of information that doesn’t quite fit, though it’s good that it’s interesting and the reader can learn from it.

  6. trish422 says:

    If the learning isn’t organic to the story, I am quickly annoyed.

  7. Chinoiseries says:

    I’m surprised that you gave it 4 stars, despite your mixed feelings. I get what you mean, background info is okay, as long as it’s not written in a pushy way. Too bad that it wasn’t integrated more seamlessly into the plot.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Chinoiseries, I did enjoy reading the book, even though I had some criticism. 4 stars for me is, that I didn’t find it a waste of time, it was OK (or even pretty good at times) to read, but it wasn’t perfect and I would not likely read it again.

  8. I started reading this book and then remembered you had reviewed it. So I stopped to find your review. And now I feel OK stopping – agree with your assessment -thanks.

  9. heldinne says:

    I sooo disagree with all of you, I thought it was a wonderful book, a splendid example of NOT whacking the reader over the head with knowledge or message, it paints a lively picture of life on a reservation and all the special ways life as a Native American is still so difficult.
    The ending is a poetic justice that leaves you ruminating on the concept of justice in general. Definitely five stars plus!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Glad you liked it so much, Heldinne (especially since I gave you my copy!). I think we all have different tastes. I liked it, for sure, but didn’t love it.

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