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I love to read. And I really enjoy reading and writing about mysteries. But sometimes I wish for more. For more meat on the bones, so to speak. For some richness and depth, for a tale that tells more than "who done it."

The Round House is one of those novels. It is a coming of age story. It is a mystery. And it is a tale of the interconnected, disjointed relationship between Native American Nations and the United States.

But mostly, it is a beautiful story of people, lyrically told.

Symbol of the Anishinaabe people

Louise Erdrich is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Ojibwe Nation. Her grandfather was a tribal chairman of the reservation in north-central North Dakota. She grew up in Wahpeton, N.D., which is coincidently, where my kid brother went to college. (Which is totally off-topic, but Wahpeton is such a small place that one rarely ever hears of, that I was surprised at the connection.)

Ojibwe, Ojibway and Ojibwa are alternate spellings of this nation known for its written tribal history, legends, maps and songs. Since Louise Erdrich uses "Ojibwe" and "Anishinaabe," I will as well.

There is here on Daily Kos, a vibrant, active Native American Netroots Community, with multiple talented writers. And less than ten days ago, one of my favorites, Ojibwa, wrote a diary about the Ojibwa Migrations.

And there is always Wikipedia for a short course on the Ojibwe people. Even better is the six part series that PBS did about the Ojibwe people. Information can be found here.

In 1988, as the novel opens, Joe is a thirteen year old boy helping his father pull weeds from their yard:
Small trees had attacked my parents’ house at the foundation. They were just seedlings with one or two rigid, healthy leaves. Nevertheless, the stalky shoots had managed to squeeze through knife cracks in the decorative brown shingles covering the cement blocks. They had grown into the unseen wall and it was difficult to pry them loose.
As his father goes into the house to call his mother, who was gone for the afternoon, Joe continues his attempts to remove the invasive roots showing a determination and perseverance that would serve him well and ill as the story progresses.

Unable to contact her, Joe's father, a tribal judge, and Joe set off to retrace her route.  They passed her on the highway, turned around and followed her home. His mother had not been working late, but had been attacked and brutally raped.

Something happened that afternoon that was so traumatic that she was unable, or unwilling to help determine who committed the crime, or where exactly the crime occurred. It happened somewhere near the Round House, which was used for tribal ceremonies, but it is unclear whether it was on tribal, state or federal land. Unable to determine jurisdiction, the investigation was stymied by conflicting claims. According to Joe's father, most rapes on Indian land are never prosecuted by the federal DA and those that were rarely result in convictions.

Dissatisfied with the lack of progress in the case, and frightened by his mother's retreat into an almost catatonic state, Joe decides to pursue the investigation himself, with the help of his closest friends. Typical teenaged boys, great fans of Star Trek The Next Generation, they set off to see what can be found. And if that happens to include a six pack of beer, well they can handle it.

As Joe searches for hidden clues, Erdrich introduces us to other characters on the reservation, including his randy grandfather, Mooshum, who relates, in his sleep over a couple of nights, the story of Nanapush, a young boy who sought and received shelter from the carcass of a dying buffalo and helped to save his mother and his tribe. The extended family includes other grandmothers who are every bit as randy as Mooshum and don't seem to care who knows it.

The people of Yoknapatawpha, the fictional North Dakota reservation where the story is set, are clearly drawn with voices that can be heard even without the use of quotation marks. As a matter of fact, the lack of quotation marks makes the speech feel more real, more mystical, and even more intimate.

The Round House is the second book in a planned trilogy of the people of Yoknapatawpha and the people of Argus, ND, the small town outside of the reservation. And although I have read that The Round House would be enhanced by reading the first, The Plague of Doves, I read it as a stand alone and didn't feel any lack. However, I plan on getting my hands on a copy of The Plague of Doves very soon. Just because I want to go back to that part of North Dakota where it all happens and visit again these people who live there.

On October 10, 2012, The Round House was announced as one of five finalists for the National Book Award for fiction.

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alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
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THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
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Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid
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