The Round House (novel)

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The Round House
The Round House (Erdrich novel).jpg
AuthorLouise Erdrich
CountryUnited States
Publication date
2 October 2012
Media typePrint (hardcover)
Pages336 (hardcover edition)
Exterior, Wassama Round House

The Round House is a novel by American writer Louise Erdrich, first published in 2012. It is her 14th novel. Some critics considered it a thematic sequel to Erdrich's 2008 novel The Plague of Doves due to its themes of revenge.[1] Like most of Erdrich's other works, it is set on an unnamed Indian reservation in North Dakota.

It won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2012.

Plot summary[edit]

In North Dakota in the spring of 1988, 13 year-old Ojibwe Joe Coutts, the only son of aging parents, learns that his mother, Geraldine, has been brutally raped. At the hospital his father Bazil, a tribal judge on the reservation, quickly enlists the county, federal, and tribal police to take statements from his wife. Geraldine was raped near the round house, a spiritual place on reservation land that is surrounded by land under multiple jurisdictions. Joe and his friends go to the round house to try to find evidence that the police might have missed. On this mission Joe locates an empty gas can that had been tossed into the lake at the bottom of the hill.

Geraldine falls into a deep depression after the rape. Bazil confides in Joe that he believes the rape might have had something to do with a case he once presided over. Among other cases, he shows Joe the case of Linda Wishkob, a white woman who had been abandoned by her family because of her birth defects. Linda was subsequently adopted into the Wishkob (Ojibwe) family and lived with them on reservation land. Joe cannot make a connection between this case and his mother's rape. He gradually learns that Linda's birth mother later re-established contact with her in order to procure her kidney for Linda's twin brother, Linden Lark. He grew up to be a violent racist drunk.

As Geraldine sinks further into depression, Joe begins to spend more time with his uncle Whitey and his aunt (by marriage) Sonja, a former stripper, for whom Joe lusts. Sonja treats him almost as an adopted son, and the two grow close. One day Joe is out looking in the water, and notices a doll. Picking it up, he removes the head and discovers forty thousand dollars in cash stuffed inside the doll. He takes the money to Sonja. She advises him to deposit the money in several banks, making him promise to use it for his education. But soon, Sonja begins to draw from the accounts to buy herself presents.

Geraldine begins to talk about her rape after learning that a man is trying to adopt an orphaned Native American baby of unknown provenance. She reveals that a woman named Mayla Wolfskin (Ojibwe) contacted her the day she was raped, saying that she was being pursued. Mayla asked to meet at the round house, where they were each attacked by Linden Lark. Lark told Geraldine that he would murder both Mayla and the baby if she told anyone about the attack or attempted to save herself. Geraldine was able to run away from him, and she has suffered guilt for what might have happened to Mayla. Based on the details Geraldine shares, Joe realizes that the money from the doll belongs to Mayla.

Based on Geraldine's testimony in court, Lark is arrested. For a time the Couttses slowly work toward restoring their lives. But Joe accidentally comes across Sonja giving a birthday present to his grandfather, Mooshum, in the form of a lap dance. Joe confronts her, and Sonja rebukes him for being another man interested only in her body. She leaves the reservation and takes most of the money from the doll with her.

Shortly after this, Lark is freed from jail. Geraldine tries to stay strong, but it becomes clear that Lark intends to harass her. The tribe identifies Lark as a Wendigo, whose existence threatens the tribe, and believe he must be neutralized. When Bazil sees him at the grocery store, he and Joe attack Lark. In the commotion, Bazil suffers a heart attack. While Bazil recovers in a hospital in Fargo, North Dakota, friends and family of the Couttses find Lark and beat him as a warning. Lark tells Whitey that he knows where Sonja is and will get her money.

Geraldine learns that Lark is unlikely to be stopped, she tells Joe that she will protect the family. Joe resolves to murder Linden himself, knowing that if caught, he will be punished as a juvenile offender. Joe tells his best friend Cappy of his plan, and Cappy supports him. Cappy teaches Joe how to shoot and plans to get a gun. Joe plans to murder Lark while the older man is out golfing in the early morning. After waiting for days for Lark to appear, Joe finally sees him and shoots him twice, wounding him. Cappy also appears at the golf course and fatally shoots Lark.

Though Joe's parents, uncle Whitey, and Linda (the deceased's biological sister) all suspect that Joe killed Linden, they are careful not to ask the youth too many questions. They work to protect him from the police. Later Cappy receives a letter from the parents of Zellia, his Mexican/American girlfriend in Montana, asking him not to contact her anymore. Cappy steals a car, and he and Joe go to see Zelia. They get into a car accident in which Cappy is killed, and Joe's parents come to take him back home.


Main characters[edit]

  • Antone (Joe) Coutts
  • Antone (Bazil) Coutts
  • Geraldine Coutts
  • Cappy
  • Uncle Whitey
  • Sonja
  • Mayla Wolfskin
  • Linden Lark
  • Linda Lark Wishkob

Secondary characters[edit]

  • Grandma Ignatia
  • Mooshum
  • Clemence
  • Uncle Edward
  • Father Travis
  • Randall
  • Angus


The novel was positively reviewed. In 2015 it was included in The Oyster Review's list of "100 Best Books of the Decade So Far".[2]

The New York Times review can be found here.

Awards and honors[edit]



Preceded by
Salvage the Bones
Jesmyn Ward
National Book Award for Fiction
Succeeded by
The Good Lord Bird
James McBride