Popsicle #5: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Since making my 52 Popsicles New Year’s resolution, I’ve been staying away from the Crime/Mystery section at the airport bookstore. When I picked up Louise Erdrich’s National Book Award winning new novel, The Round House, I thought I was being perfectly highbrow.

But The Round House turns out to be a real potboiler. It tells the story of a 13-year-old Native American, Joe, who’s out to avenge his mother’s rapist. It’s both a coming-of-age story and a crime thriller. But like the best genre fiction, Erdrich embeds important issues into her narrative.

Through the character of Joe’s father, a tribal judge, Erdrich is able to chronicle the persistent injustice Native Americans have experienced since the earliest days of the non-Native legal system:

“Take Johnson v McIntosh. It’s 1823. The United States is forty-seven years old and the entire country is based on grabbing Indian land as quickly as possible in as many ways as can be humanly devised. Land speculation is the stock market of the times. Everybody’s in on it. George Washington. Thomas Jefferson. As well as Chief Justice John Marshall, who wrote the decision for this case and made his family’s fortune. The land madness is unmanageable by the nascent government.”

Reading this, I thought about what I’d recently seen in North Dakota. While photographing the oil boom, I stumbled across a Native American family on the Berthold Indian Reservation. While the children played in the prairie grasses, below the surface gigantic drill bits assaulted the earth for miles.

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– Alec Soth

6 Replies to “Popsicle #5: The Round House by Louise Erdrich”

  1. By the way, I took the photo of Louise Erdrich around the corner from her bookstore in Minneapolis. I think it is so cool that she and Garrison Keillor both have small bookstores in the Twin Cities. Her comments about the store in this Paris Review interview has me daydreaming about The Little Brown Mushroom Bookstore:

    “Birchbark Books is still here! In fact, doing well. But I’m not a business person. At first I looked at the bookstore as a work of art that would survive on its own artfulness. Now I get that it’s a business, but it is also much more. Any good business is about its people. Marvelous people work at Birchbark Books. That’s why it’s still alive. Walking into a huge bookstore feels a bit like walking into Amazon.com. But walking into a small bookstore, you immediately feel the presence of the mind that has chosen the books on the shelves. You communicate intellectually with the buyer. People need bookstores and need other readers. We need the intimate communication with others who love books. We don’t really think we do, because of the ease that the Internet has introduced, but we still need the physical world more than we know.”

  2. Great blog, great posts, and insightful photos – but how come the North Dakota skyline is out of kilter? Surely the fracking doesn’t produce that dramatic a change?

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