Book Review: 'The Round House'

Alan Cheuse reviews Louise Erdrich's latest novel "The Round House." Cheuse teaches creative writing at George Mason University.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, is always in pursuit of great new books. And today, Louise Erdrich's latest "The Round House." I interviewed her earlier this week about the novel. Now, here's Alan's take and he says it's her best yet.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The narrator is an Ojibwe lawyer named Joe Coutts, the son of a tribal judge and a tribal clerk. The story opens in Joe's 13th summer, in 1988, in the garden of their house on their North Dakota reservation. His mother gets a telephone call, she drives off to fetch an apparently controversial file from her office, and at the tribe's ancient ceremonial lakeside round house, she suffers a brutal, nearly fatal, sexual assault.

This event turns upside down the life of the family and the entire reservation's sense of justice. The elder Coutts works with law enforcement, including the FBI, to find the identity of his wife's assailant, while young Joe and his reservation pals go sleuthing like self-proclaimed detectives out of a Mark Twain novel. It's not until almost halfway through the story that Joe makes clear what we as readers know has to be true. You have to read this far, he says, and you know that I'm writing this story at a removal of time from that summer.

That long view and having become like his father before him, a tribal judge, gives Joe the clarity of mind and emotional distance from the tumultuous period of his adolescence, when the harm done to his mother spurs him to commit even greater violence.

All of this he describes in a smooth voice nurtured by years of experience and honed by memory, as he tells the story of a peculiar history in an out-of-the-way part of our nation that touches on the hearts and souls of us all.

CORNISH: A review of Louise Erdrich's new novel "The Round House" from our critic, Alan Cheuse.

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