Friday, October 25, 2013

“The Round House” by Louise Erdrich

After reading numerous raving reviews of Louise Erdrich's book "The Round House", I was able to check it out of the local library and read it.  Now I'm heaving a sigh of regret.  Although Ms. Erdrich can write powerfully, I feel that this book did not deserve the praise that has been lavished on it.  Furthermore, I feel betrayed by all of the reviewers who plugged the book and called it "brilliant" without giving an accurate account of its nature.  It even won an award, which is beyond my understanding.  The award-givers were either desperate or else, their judgement is vastly different from my own.

In my mouth is a distasteful sense of having been exposed to something ugly, that I did not want to see, and which serves no purpose whatsoever.  Novels about psychopathic crimes should be required to bear warning labels, just as movies about people dying from cancer should.  It reminds me of my frustration upon seeing the 2011 film "We Bought a Zoo"--I expected a lighthearted film, but what I got was a family in grief about losing a loved one to cancer.  Ms. Erdrich's book masquerades as various things, but it was ultimately an expose of a very ugly crime, and all its afternath, and all the ways that human systems for dealing with crime sometimes fall short.

Had I known that it would in fact be this journey into the horror of an ugly crime, I would never have read the book at all, simply because that is not something that I wanted to read about right now.  I'm not afraid to know about ugliness, mind you--especially if there is anything I can do about it--but as an expose, this is useless.  I am not in a position to prevent this kind of thing.  I already knew this kind of thing could happen to anyone.  How has my life been improved by being reminded?  I was not entertained, I was not informed, I was not bettered.   If you care about this sort of thing, write a news article and get it published. 

Now, there are novels about crimes that I have enjoyed.  They have something in them that overcomes the fact that a terrible crime was committed.  They have stories that know what they are, that focus on something worth focusing on.  But not this book; it does not know what it wants to be.  Is it a crime or detective story, or a mystery?  Is it a coming of age story about kids suddenly facing adult realities?  Is it a story about Native American culture clashes a la Tony Hillerman?  It tries, at times, to be all of these, but fails. The story's voice is not consistent enough to be really good at any one of these genres

The fact is, from time to time, this novel focuses in on a victim's pain.  The last thing most of us need is to spend precious hours of our lives reading about someone else's degradations and all the pain that caused.  What I want, when I read a novel, is first to be interested, entertained, and to have hope.  I do not want to be beat down and feel that life is hopeless, or that the costs we must pay for basic justice will haunt us.  My advice is, don't read this book unless you are willing to experience that pain.

I can't speak for any other of Erdrich's work.  This is not a story I am glad to have read.  What is the point?  I was not thrilled; I was disgusted and disturbed.  And there was no redeeming inspiration to be had for me in there, anywhere.  It's just not what I'm after in a novel, sorry.  And I am unlikely to move on to any of her other works after this.