Recommended Reading: The Round House, by Louise Erdrich

The plot of Louise Erdrich’s amazing novel concerns a boy’s search for the man who attacked his mother, while his father searches for justice despite the twisted web of federal, state, and tribal laws that stands in his way.

It sounds simple, but The Round House is the work of a master-storyteller, each detail bringing daily life on the reservation into focus. Joe, the narrator, is a funny, honest companion through the often-horrifying story, and through his eyes we see all the best of late-boyhood friendships in his adventures with Cappy, Zack, and Angus, as well as the worst in men.

The raw anger and frustration that this book made me feel was balanced by admiration for Ms. Erdrich’s stunning language and deft way of shaping her characters. One of my favorite passages is Joe’s relation of the boys’ love for Star Trek: The Next Generation. The boys all want to be Worf, but admire Data immensely. (Also, the chapter names are often taken from the names of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes.)

I finished reading The Round House last Wednesday, and I’m thrilled that I’ve finally had the chance to recommend it.

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Recommended Reading: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, by Michael Chabon

My copy of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh includes an interview with Michael Chabon, in which he talks about the influence of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Philip Roth on this, Mr. Chabon’s first published novel. While I haven’t read enough Roth to comment on the connection (truly, one of his novels was quite enough for me, though you may, if you choose, think me a Philistine), The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, without being at all similar in plot or setting, did indeed seem caught up in the summer-long wave of events that is The Great Gatsby; the last page of the novel, especially, savored strongly of the green light.

Art Bechstein, the narrator, spends his first post-collegiate summer in Pittsburgh looking for adventures and answers with a new, wildly interesting set of friends.

That’s not a great summary, but really, how do you summarize a novel? I’ve always found it tremendously difficult, and the stress that results from worrying about what to leave out and what to highlight makes me thirst for a tall gin and tonic.

But I digress.

This is my third Chabon novel. I very much enjoyed Wonder Boys, which I like to read in conjunction with Straight Man, by Richard Russo, my number-one contemporary lit-fic squeeze, and I recommend Mr. Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay to just about everyone. It was the first-year summer reading at Ohio State (Go Bucks!) when I was a freshman (lo these many years ago), and it was an awesome pick.

Reading a first novel after reading those polished, longer pieces was delightful; I saw later characters germinating, saw the beginnings of Mr. Chabon’s wit and breadth of view. It wasn’t jarring (the way that reading The Comedy of Errors after reading King Lear is almost terrifying), but rather gave me a chance to appreciate the author’s mature prose in light of his youthful exuberance, without denigrating either.

A few other stray thoughts: I’m a sucker for kind but clear-eyed descriptions of north-easternly cities that aren’t New York (hailing as I do from Cleveland by way of Buffalo), and Mr. Chabon’s Pittsburgh is a character in this novel. The first-person narration works, and the slight departure from it in the penultimate chapter made me sit up and take notice of what was happening, without fanfare or fireworks.

It’s a fine bildungsroman with charm and verve, and it comes highly recommended.

By the way, I hear there’s a film version, and that you shouldn’t see it.