Louise Erdrich’s novel The Round House is currently enjoying a massive swack of literary attention and awards. This is good. This is as it should be. The book is amazing. It’s a rich and strange portrait of boyish adolescence. It’s about Star Trek, the awesomeness of Worf, and how reaching adulthood often requires imitating Captain Jean Luc Picard. It’s about ghosts that aren’t necessarily the ghosts of the dead. It’s about rez life and rez law. But over and around all other subjects and concerns, the book chronicles the aftermath of sexual assault. It also dramatizes the impossible legal tangle of that aftermath, given that reservation law could not prosecute non-Native perpetrators.
Novels usually disavow any connection to reality. The fine print reminds us that “this is a work of fiction.” But check out Erdrich’s version of that disclaimer, typed up at the end: “The events in this book are loosely based on so many different cases, reports, and stories that the outcome is pure fiction.”
Go back and read that sentence again. It handles its rhetoric like a kung-fu master, moving almost too fast to see. “This story is made-up. And yet it did happen in one way or another, over and over again, in so many different cases. And it is still happening. All of this is fiction. All of this is true.”
Now we need to talk about politics and current events.
The Tribal Law and Order Act, passed in 2010, did much to challenge the basic, fundamental injustice dramatized by The Round House: abuse and assault committed by non-Indians on reservation land became answerable to reservation law. A new provision in the Violence Against Women Act would do more. This is good. This is generations overdue. But the GOP is blocking the hell out of the Violence Against Women Act.
I’m not entirely comfortable posting about politics in a blog about kidlit, but we need to be talking about this. The Round House won the National Book Award, and yet I’ve seen zero press connecting the novel to the current struggle in the House and Senate.
Every other email asks us to call our reps for one reason or another. It’s exhausting, I know. But call your reps. Or write to them. Ask whether or not they support violent misogyny. Demand an explanation for their support of violent misogyny. Get the VAWA reauthorized. Honor the magnificent literary achievement of The Round House by answering the specific legal injustice it dramatizes. Because it’s still happening. All of it is fiction, and all of it is true.