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The Round House by Louise Erdrich **** (of 4)

roundhouseJoe, the story’s thirteen-year-old narrator, is a Native American living on a reservation in North Dakota.  His mother has just been raped, not unusual as one in three Native women are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.  His mother is broken, dead in her soul, and yet not alive either.  His father, a judge and legal scholar maintains his grace, but barely, and Joe?  Well, Joe is thirteen, now part motherless child and simultaneously on the edge of manhood.  He is driven by competing desires to bring justice for his mother, to sneak out on his bicycle with his buddies to smoke cigarettes and drink beer, and longing for just one chance to see a woman’s breasts.  As Joe matures, sort of, the mystery of the rapist’s identity is slowly revealed only to be confounded by a crime which occurred in a kind of legal no-man’s land.  The suspect is immune in tribal courts, but it isn’t clear that either Federal or state laws apply either.  Neither the crime, nor the subsequent legal confabulations form the backbone of this story.  Rather, it is Erdrich’s compelling storytelling and richly drawn characters who defy stereotype while remaining true to their native heritage.  Winner of the National Book Award 2013.