I think of myself as liking happy, upbeat books, but reviewing my reading list from this year alone, it’s clear that man do I love a heartwrenching drama. My favorite books are full of suffering (The Grapes of Wrath, Room, Cutting for Stone, What Was She Thinking/Notes on a Scandal). My favorite TV shows are stressful and sorrowful (American Horror Story, Six Feet Under, Mad Men, Big Love). Drama, drama, drama, drama, drama.
I caught Louise Erdrich’s interview in promotion of her new book, The Round House, on All Things Considered as I drove home from the Pennsylvania Conference for Women. I knew immediately that although her new novel is tragic, I would love it. It did not disappoint. Erdrich has such a hand for prose. As I read her words, the page quickly fades and the story unfolds visually.
The Round House is a coming of age story, slightly reminiscent of Stephen King’s novella The Body. Joe is thirteen years old, spending his summer riding bikes with his friends, sneaking cigarettes, and generally getting into harmless mischief. One Sunday, his mother goes out for a drive, and is uncharacteristically late. As Joe and his dad pile into the car to go look for her, her car screeches up. Her face is bruised and battered. She sits in the seat, blank, unmoving. She has been brutally raped.
Hopes for legitimate justice evaporate quickly. Joe’s family is members of the Ojibwe tribe, living on reservation lands. His mother does not know if the attack occurred on Native, Federal, or fee lands, they do not know who the attacker is, or of which nation he is a citizen. Joe’s innocence of the world melts away, and he struggles to keep his tattered family together, he struggles to come to terms with the terrible violation of his mother.
In my judgment, this novel could easily be the best novel of 2012.