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I read the blurb for Round House about a half-dozen times, each time remembering that I just wasn’t drawn to it. Then it went and won the National Book Award for Fiction and I just about cursed because I knew I was going to have to bite the bullet and read the darn thing. Of course, of course, when I started reading it, I ended up liking it. Quite a lot, actually.

For one thing, the protag is a young 14(ish)-year-old about to start his freshman year. You all know how much I love discovering good books for tween- and teenaged boys. There are just so few of them. Joe, our protag, is out to find the man responsible for his mother’s brutally violent rape. He’s helped along the way by his three best friends and his father, a judge who’s fallen just a peg or two in Joe’s eyes by his reaction to “the event” and because Joe finally understands how unglamorous an adult’s life can be.

This is all relayed much, much more poetically than the way I’m bungling it of course. It might be a bit unbelievable that a 14-year-old boy could discover so much that the grown-ups could not, but Erdrich is so gifted a writer that I was compelled to read anyway. I didn’t much care for the way her plot just seemed to plod along, just happen, ta da! But her descriptions – my god! That is where Erdrich’s beautiful genius lies.

Linda Wishkob was magnetically ugly.

and, after narrowly escaping a pack of semi-feral dogs in order to sneak into a cemetery that had previously scared him senseless, Joe described his new feelings about the blessedly quiet cemetery as,

The dogless dead felt safe.

and during a confrontation with his father,

He squinted out at the neatly planted little seedlings in the garden, then slowly, very slowly, he turned and stared at me with the unblinking all-seeing gaze I used to think he turned on murderers before I found out he only dealt with hot dog thieves.

Do you see why I had to read the thing? I can easily understand how Erdrich so handily won the National Book Award. And why, all these years later, I am still learning how to be a reader. 5 of 5 stars.

 

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