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The Round House

The Round House Summary


Here you will find a The Round House summary (Louise Erdrich's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

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Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

The Round House Summary Overview

Living on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota is the Coutts family: father Bazil, a tribal judge, mother Geraldine, a tribal enrollment specialist, and their 13-year-old son, Joe. Their peaceful life is disrupted one day when Geraldine is brutally attacked and raped. The traumatizing incident leaves her incapable of leaving her room, motivating Bazil and Joe to seek justice. Joe, driven by this purpose, ropes in his friends to aid in the search for his mother’s assailant. Their investigation leads them to the round house on Reservation Lake, where they discover a gasoline can and unopened beer cans. Despite the grim circumstances, Joe and his friends still find time for typical adolescent fun. As Geraldine's condition stagnates, Joe and Bazil suspect she knows the identity of her attacker yet remains silent out of fear. Their investigation leads them to Linda Wishkob, a woman with ties to the Lark family, known for their hostility towards Judge Coutts. Linda's twin, Linden Lark, radiates violence and resentment towards the judge. Meanwhile, Joe seeks guidance from his grandfather, Mooshum, who advises him to consult their clan's spirit - the Ajijaak. During this consultation, Joe discovers a doll filled with cash at the bottom of the lake, which he hides with the help of Sonja, the wife of his uncle Whitey. In time, Geraldine finally opens up about her ordeal, revealing that she and another woman, Mayla Wolfskin, were attacked by the same man. Though she refuses to name him, the police arrest Linden Lark, confirming Joe's suspicion. Despite Geraldine's eventual identification of Linden as the assailant, he goes free due to a legal loophole, enraging Joe. As the shadow of Linden's presence in town looms, Joe and his friend Cappy devise a plan to kill him. They succeed, but Joe's parents and the police grow suspicious. The boys' alibi is corroborated by Uncle Whitey, and the discovery of the murder weapon by Linda leads to its disposal. After a tragic car accident claims Cappy's life, Joe is left in a state of shock and realization that his parents know the truth about Linden's death, but choose to remain silent as they head home.

chapter 1

Joe Coutts, a young Ojibwe boy of 13, lives on a reservation in North Dakota with his family. At the novel's onset, he assists his father, Judge Bazil Coutts, in removing sprouted seedlings from their home's foundation. His mother, Geraldine, who works as a tribal enrollment specialist, heads to her office to retrieve a file. During her absence, Joe engrosses himself in his father's book on Native American law. Concerned when Geraldine doesn't return, Joe and his father set out to find her using a borrowed car. Upon spotting her driving past them in a distressed state, they double back to follow her. Once home, they discover a shaken Geraldine in her car, her clothes stained with vomit, blood, and the odor of gasoline. Joe cradles her as his father speeds to the hospital. At the hospital, despite Geraldine's attempts to comfort Joe, it's evident she's gravely injured. A complicated jurisdiction issue arises since the location of the crime isn't clear. This necessitates interviews with Geraldine by a state trooper, a local officer, and a tribal police officer to establish whether the case falls under federal, state, or Native American jurisdiction. Joe learns from his aunt Clemence, Geraldine’s sister, that his mother has been sexually assaulted.

chapter 2

Geraldine is discharged from the hospital and Joe resumes school, reconnecting with pals Cappy, Zack, and Angus. Their friendship is fueled by a mutual love for Star Wars, with Cappy being Joe's closest friend. Geraldine's vicious assault leaves her emotionally wounded and confined to her room. Judge Coutts temporarily steps down from his job. Joe's Uncle Whitey and his wife Sonja, an ex-stripper who Joe is fascinated with, provide Joe’s family with their protective dog, Pearl. Joe and Cappy assist Randall, Cappy’s elder brother, in a prayer ritual in a sweat lodge. The ceremony hilariously fails when hot pepper is mistakenly thrown on the fire. Before this, Randall experiences a worrisome vision of a silver-haired man looming over Joe. Geraldine gets back to cooking when Judge Coutts purposely makes a disgusting stew. As she cooks, Judge Coutts retrieves some documents from his office. On his return, Geraldine fails to hear him, gets startled and drops a casserole when he touches her. She then retreats to her room once more. Later, Judge Coutts presents the documents to Joe, stating that they are on a mission to identify the perpetrator.

chapter 3

While going through past judicial records, Joe and his father, Judge Coutts, try to identify potential enemies. They find two cases involving the Larks, a white family that Judge Coutts had previously ruled against for exploiting Native Americans through their store and seizing Native lands. Judge Coutts describes to Joe how the Larks had a set of twins and discarded the weaker, Linda, who was later informally adopted by a Native American family, the Wishkobs. When the Wishkobs died, the Larks attempted to reclaim Linda, now an adult, to gain access to the Wishkob's Native American land allotment. Judge Coutts ruled in favor of Linda and her siblings boycotted the Lark's store. Even though the Larks are deceased, their son, Linden, holds a grudge against Judge Coutts for his family's misfortunes. Joe comes across another case featuring Vince Madwesin, the stepfather of Angus Kapshaw and the tribal police officer who interviewed Geraldine at the hospital. Madwesin had once forcefully removed a drunk from a holy ceremony at an old roundhouse near Reservation Lake. Joe suddenly realizes that the location of his mother's assault was the same old round house.

chapter 4

Joe and his pals head to Reservation Lake by bike, ending up at the round house where Joe knows his mom was assaulted. The scent of gasoline fills the air and Joe pictures the attacker attempting to dispose of a can of gas. Following this imagined lead, he discovers the gas can in the lake. They scour the area for more evidence, taking breaks to smoke and munch on peanut butter and pickle sandwiches, washing them down with found cans of unopened beer. The boys then decide to visit Grandma Thunder's home, sure of the fact that she'll give them food. As always, the old lady amuses them with her raunchy humor. Joe returns home late, sneaking in to find Judge Coutts and Uncle Edward, Aunt Clemence's spouse, engaged in a serious conversation over whiskey. They express concern for Geraldine and wonder about another potential attacker, Father Travis, a former Marine turned priest. While falling asleep, Joe is puzzled by the file his mother had retrieved from her office. Later, he notices a silver-haired figure outside. Come morning, his dad concurs that Joe most likely saw a ghost. He then confides in his father about his visit to the round house.

chapter 5

Geraldine remains secluded in her room, prompting Joe and Judge Coutts to fill her spring garden with her beloved blossoms. As Judge Coutts heads off to acquire more flowers, Joe serves Geraldine with food and engages in a dialogue about gardening. He confronts her regarding a file she had gone to retrieve on the day of her assault. Geraldine refutes the existence of such a file while exhibiting signs of fear. When Joe pledges to eliminate her assailant, she instructs him to refrain from further pursuing the individual. Joe discerns that she recognizes her attacker. Upon Judge Coutts' return, Joe presents him with the gas can sourced from the lake. Judge Coutts directs Joe to desist from his detective role, causing an infuriated Joe to cycle off. He gathers his friends and they attend Mass to acquaint themselves with the new priest, Father Travis. That evening, they surreptitiously observe Father Travis. They surpass a group of aggressive dogs, stealthily navigate cemetery grounds and their forefather's graves, and peer into a window. They observe the film Alien from Father Travis's viewpoint. They also notice Father Travis's severely marked genitals as he undresses. When Father Travis discovers the boys, he sternly explains why he cannot be the perpetrator of the assault and then dismisses them.

chapter 6

Judge Coutts and Joe invite Linda Wishkob for a talk, but initially, their conversation is limited to trivial issues. Later, Linda turns up unexpectedly at Joe's house where she observes Joe and Cappy engrossed in a video game before visiting Geraldine. On her next visit, she brings a homemade banana bread for Geraldine. Eventually, Linda opens up about her painful past. She shares how she was born with a head deformity, leading her birth mother, Grace Lark, to abandon her. Fortunately, a hospital janitor, Betty Wishkob, adopted her and together with her husband, they raised Linda. Decades later, Grace reached out to Linda, asking her to donate a kidney to her aggressive twin brother, Linden, which she did, almost losing her life in the process. Linda painfully regrets this decision, acknowledging Linden's evil actions. Throughout her difficult journey, Linda's Wishkob siblings and Geraldine have been her pillars of support.

chapter 7

Joe observes his aged grandfather, Mooshum, one morning at Aunt Clemence and Uncle Edward's house. He shares with Mooshum about the silver-haired stranger he and Randall encountered, for which Mooshum suggests seeking guidance from the Ajijaak, his father's crane clan. Following this, Joe cycles to the lake where he spots a heron and finds a cash-loaded doll submerged in the lake. Rushing to Uncle Whitey's petrol station, he reveals his find to Sonja. They split over $40,000 from the doll and secretly deposit it into multiple banks. Sonja urges Joe to keep quiet about it and hints at potential risks he could face. Upon returning home, Joe discovers Judge Coutts in conversation with Soren Bjerke, the FBI officer handling his mother Geraldine's case. He insists they search for the file his mother allegedly has, even though she denies it. When Judge Coutts presses Joe to reveal all he knows, he admits to drinking beer near the round house but omits mentioning the discovered money.

chapter 8

To encourage Geraldine to speak about her assault, Judge Coutts and son Joe dine in her room. Despite sharing stories and news of Joe's new job at Whitey and Sonja's gas station, Geraldine remains silent. Only when Judge Coutts mentions corrupt politician Curtis Yeltow, who plans to adopt a Native American child with a missing mother, does Geraldine speak. She recalls Mayla Wolfskin, a young Native woman who sought to enroll her child in their tribe. Geraldine was attacked when delivering Mayla's baby's enrollment file. Post attack, she found herself in the round house alongside Mayla and her baby. Her attacker alternated between verbally abusing Mayla and professing his love for her. He doused both women in gasoline but left to fetch matches. Seizing the opportunity, Geraldine escaped, though she remains silent about the identity of her assailant to protect Mayla and her child. Geraldine is taken to the hospital by her husband, and Joe stays with Whitey and Sonja. Noticing Sonja's new jewelry and clothing, she confesses to Joe she took money from a doll, leading to a misunderstanding and consequent beating from Whitey. Disheartened, Joe quits his job. Joe moves in with Aunt Clemence and Uncle Edward and shares a room with Mooshum, who talks in his sleep. In one such episode, Mooshum tells a tale of Akii, a woman accused by her husband of being a wiindigoo, a person possessed by an animal. Akii's son, Nanapush, denies the order to kill his mother and the two escape. Nanapush hunts the last buffalo, who sacrifices her life to protect mother and son. Returning home, Geraldine tries to reclaim her normal life. Joe and his friends swim at the lake, where they meet a church youth group, join them and Cappy falls in love with Mexican girl Zelia. Later, Judge Coutts informs Joe of Geraldine's attacker's arrest but jurisdiction uncertainty arises as Geraldine can't recall the exact location of the attack. News arrives of Mayla Wolfskin's car being discovered in the lake. As the boys watch it being pulled out, Joe spots a piece of cloth matching the doll within the car.

chapter 9

Mooshum's 112th birthday party is hosted by Aunt Clemence. Old stories are exchanged between Mooshum and Grandma Thunder, and Mooshum's hair catches fire in the festivities. Joe catches sight of Sonja in new attire and Cappy slips away to see Zelia. Joe's parents return home, providing a comforting presence. Curtis Yeltow's attempted adoption case leads to the discovery of Mayla Wolfskin as the mother of the baby. Geraldine discloses the attacker's identity as Linden Lark, prompting Joe's parents to go to Bismarck to continue the investigation. Joe stays with his relatives. When his aunt and uncle are out, Sonja visits with a birthday gift for Mooshum in the form of a strip act. Joe watches Sonja’s act, which is odd yet fascinating. Sonja reprimands Joe after her performance. Cappy confesses to Joe about his sexual encounter with Zelia in the church basement. Joe hears Geraldine's cry, indicating Linden's release. He confronts his father in anger, to which Judge Coutts explains the long-term plan of securing Native American jurisdiction. Joe leaves, frustrated. In another confession, Cappy tells Father Travis about his sexual encounter. The priest reacts angrily, chasing Cappy. The entire community watches their pursuit, which soon becomes a local legend. Mooshum recalls another legendary race from his youth. Whitey reveals Sonja's departure. Joe shares with Cappy about the doll and money discovered. They visit the site where Joe and Sonja hid their bank passbooks. Joe finds $200 in cash and $10,000 for his college fund left by Sonja, who has fled with the remaining money. Joe shares half of the cash with Cappy.

chapter 10

Linda Wishkob informs the Coutts that Linden Lark is in town again. Judge Coutts tells Geraldine to stay indoors with Pearl for protection. While out for groceries, they encounter Linden, which results in Judge Coutts having a heart attack in his attempt to choke him. Joe and Geraldine reside in a hotel in Fargo as the Judge is hospitalized. They are informed that Linden has been assaulted and was boasting about his wealthy girlfriend, possibly Sonja. Geraldine proclaims that she will confront Linden, which terrifies Joe, as he believes Linden might harm her. Joe decides he must take Linden's life himself. Joe seeks out Father Travis under the disguise of joining the church but with an actual intention to learn shooting, as Travis is known for his marksmanship. But the Father sermonizes about the presence of some good in every evil. Cappy, who has been hunting from a young age, ridicules Father Travis's teachings and offers to train Joe in shooting. Joe practices shooting with Cappy using a rifle borrowed from Cappy's father, but his aim is dismal. Using the money Sonja gave him, he buys extra bullets. Conversing with Linda Wishkob, Joe learns about Linden's morning golf routine. They devise a plan to feign a rifle theft and ambush Linden during the summer powwow, a time when everyone is camping. During the powwow, they enjoy the dances, food, and flirt with girls. Joe meets Margaret, who later becomes his wife. In the cover of the night, Joe and Cappy abscond with the rifle, conceal it near the golf course, and keep an eye out for Linden. On the third day, Linden shows up. From his hideout in the bushes, Joe shoots Linden in the stomach. Despite trying to shoot again, he freezes. Cappy unexpectedly shows up, grabs the rifle, and finishes Linden with a shot to the head. Hastily, they collect the rifle casings and leave the scene.

chapter 11

Joe and Cappy grapple with disposing the rifle, choosing the old Wishkob home. They use Randall’s car to hide the weapon under the porch in the rain. Joe and Cappy then go to Whitey’s gas station, where Joe informs Whitey of Linden's death. Whitey provides them sandwiches and alcohol, leading to them passing out. After waking, Joe returns home to learn about Linden's murder and expresses his relief. He starts to worry that his mother can see his guilt. Joe becomes sick and during his recovery, the police start investigating Linden's death. Whitey provides their alibi, claiming they were asleep behind his station during the murder. The police also find a pickle jar Joe left at the golf course. Joe visits the Wishkob home and learns from Linda that she found and disposed of the rifle. Linda suspects her brother, Linden, killed Mayla Wolfskin and buried her on the reservation. Judge Coutts discusses justice with Joe, confessing the community feels safer without Linden. Deciding not to probe Linden's murder further, Judge Coutts alludes to the possibility of Linden being an evil spirit, whose killing is justified under tribal laws. Despite this, Joe and Cappy remain haunted by their actions. Later, Cappy receives a warning letter from Zelia’s parents, who have moved Zelia to Helena to keep her away from him. Joe, Zack, and Angus accompany Cappy to Helena in Randall’s car. They purchase alcohol and during the trip, the car flips with Joe asleep in the back. The accident results in Cappy's death and Joe is taken to the hospital by a silver-haired policeman. Upon seeing his parents, Geraldine and Judge Coutts, Joe sees them as aged. They don't exhibit anger, but Joe senses they know everything. The family heads home in silence.

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