This may be true, but it’s also incredibly sweet to win. That’s why I couldn’t be happier that Louise Erdrich’s latest novel The Round House is this year’s recipient of the National Book Award for fiction. Erdrich is a storyteller of remarkable skill who can create a tone that is at once heartbreaking and tragic. Using lush, poetic language, she describes settings that few may have actually experienced and creates characters that readers cannot forget. Her first novel, Love Medicine, was published in 1984 and received both popular and critical acclaim. It is a haunting, heart-wrenching, hopeful and beautiful novel that still remains my answer to “what is your favorite book?”
I read The Round House a few weeks ago, having waited months for it to arrive at the library. Do you know that feeling when you’re starting a book by one of your favorite authors? It’s such a comfort to read through the first several sentences and remember what an incredible artist he or she is. It’s almost like resuming the most natural of conversations with an old friend. That’s not to say that there are no surprises. I am still stunned by the quickness with which Erdrich can turn the ordinary into magical and the magical into irreverently ridiculous.
While not devoid of Erdrich’s characteristic wit, The Round House seems a much more serious book; its subject matter is heavy, difficult, and dark. Set in 1988 on a North Dakota reservation, the story is told from the perspective of 14 year-old Joe Coutz. The only child of a tribal judge and an enrollment specialist, his world is upended when his mother is brutally attacked and sinks into a debilitating depression. Feeling a tremendous responsibility to help his mother and mend his broken family, Joe sets out to discover what happened the day of the attack. The novel explores the multitude of questions about justice—how we pursue it, why we need it, and what becomes of us if no justice is possible. But at its heart, like all of Erdrich’s novels, The Round House is about love and our desperate need to connect to others in order to heal and endure.