It’s Book Club Day, and we’re joined again by Mina Kimes to discuss the Louise Erdrich novel The Round House. The page-turning coming-of-age story set in 1988 North Dakota follows a foursome of young boys seeking vigilante justice. It prompts discussion of vengeance, sexuality and consent, and flaws in the criminal justice system in regard to American tribal lands.
Be sure to listen to the end of today’s episode to find out what our book club pick will be in March 2023.
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Traci Thomas 0:09
Welcome to The Stacks, a podcast about books and the people who read them. I’m your host Traci Thomas and it is The Stacks book club day and we are thrilled to welcome back ESPN analyst Mina Kimes to discuss the Round House by Louise Erdrich. The book was released in 2012. And it won the National Book Award. It’s set in 1988 and centers on a 13 year old boy named Joe living with his parents in North Dakota as his mother reels from a brutal attack on their reservation. The justice system is simply no help. So Joe and his friend set out seeking justice. We talked today about this literary thriller, the characters and scenes that stuck with us most and our thoughts on justice more broadly. There are a lot of spoilers in today’s episode. Make sure you listen through to the end of today’s episode to hear our official announcement for our March book club pick. Quick reminder, everything we talked about on today’s episode of the stacks can be found in the link in the show notes. And listen, if you love the show, and you want more of it, please go to patreon.com/the stacks to join the stacks pack. The Stacks is a completely independent podcast, which means I could not make the show without listeners like you who put $5 Each month behind the show to make it possible. You get things like bonus episodes or virtual book club access to our lively discord. Plus, you get to know that your contribution is making this show happen every single week, head to patreon.com/thestacks to join. Special shout out to our newest members Sophia Ali, Meg Helms, Hannah Cox, Caitlin Brown, Tamaris Jamel ginger Fargas, Hannah Piercey and Lord Kent. Thank you all so much and thank you to the entire stacks pack. Okay, now it’s time for my conversation with Mina Kimes about the Round House by Louise Erdrich and remember there are spoilers.
All right, everybody, it is The Stacks book club day I am joined again by the wonderful Mina Kimes. Mina, welcome back. We’re talking today about the Round House by Louise Erdrich. So just to give folks a heads up, we will be spoiling the episode and I’ll give you a quick rundown about what it’s about, which is always the hardest thing for me to do every every time we do a book club episode. But basically, it’s the story of a 13 year old boy named Joe whose mother is brutally raped. It’s a bit thriller-y. He’s trying to figure out what happened. It’s about his community, his family in a fictional town in North Dakota. And then it’s about him and his friend, like going to figure it all out. And yeah, not my strong suit. But that I think that sums it up for now. We always sort of start in the same place for these book club episodes, sort of generally, what did you think of the book?
Mina Kimes 2:46
I mean, I guess I’ll start here. I find it riveting like the other Louise Erdrich book I read was The Night Watchman, which is what prompted me to ask to read this because I loved that book so much. And I know she’s so prolific. So I certainly don’t know what all of her books are like. But that’s one aspect of it that reminded me a bit of the Night Watchman is, there’s a little mystery, and you want to keep reading and you want to see what happens. And, yeah, it’s amazing. It was just amazing to me how she like mixed- You know, it’s a coming of age story. It’s dealing with so singular and specific. But first and foremost, it’s a book that like, makes you compelled to keep reading it. And I read it really quickly as a result.
Traci Thomas 3:24
Yeah, I had, I had a weird feeling- not weird feeling- I had a weird experience reading this book. So I was super interested to know what would happen. But every time I would sit down to read the book, I would fall asleep, which is like, it’s so weird, because usually when I fall asleep reading, it’s like, I’m tired. But I was really interested in like, I would dream about the book, like it was like sticking with me, but it took me longer to read it than I would have thought sort of a thriller-y book would. And I think part of it is because it has like a lot of literary appeal to it, like literary fiction. And there’s a coming of age story. And it’s not like a true thriller. And it’s sort of like a, like a sleepy thriller. Like it kind of moves slower. But I was like, really into her writing, like I was really enjoying it. But it did sort of, like, calm me in a way that I maybe wasn’t expecting. And I think they because like the middle is a little slow. I thought the beginning and the end were like, holy cow. And I thought some of the stuff in the middle. I was like, Where are we going? Where are we?
Mina Kimes 4:23
There’s, there’s a lot of detail in it. And I’ve seen her writing compared to Faulkner I think for that reason, in that it gives you such a sense of place. And it’s so specific, I think, sometimes. To your point. There’s a lot of time. You know, it’s not just plotty- there’s also a lot of time spent in the book, say reminding readers of where you are and you know we’re going to take a detour and I’m going to teach you about history and the history of this tribe and the history- or they’ll talk about the law, which is very important in this book and I do think sometimes, yeah, that’s what sort of, it’s very distinctive about her writing how detailed it is and how grounded it is in detail. But I could see that also maybe lulling you a little bit.
Traci Thomas 5:15
That’s the exact word- lull, so the book is a loosely part of a trilogy, The her like justice trilogy, which I thought was really interesting. It’s the second book, The first one is called the Plague of Doves. And then this is the second one. And then the third one is Larose. And I know Larose is a character in this book, but it’s apparently not about that Larose I think it’s connected to that Larose, but it’s like a different family member with the same name or something. But I definitely felt like in reading this, I was curious to read the other two to like, see how they were connected and stuff. Okay, I want to start with, I think we have to start with the mom. I feel like that story is like sort of like the propulsive center, the sort of the rape, kidnap abduction abuse story. How did how did the thriller thru line work for you? Like, how did that part of the story work for you?
Mina Kimes 6:07
Well, you know, the first half of the book is kind of you don’t know who it is. And I think what is so interesting is the second half, you find out who committed the rape. It’s a white man who has a complicated history with the tribe, his name is Linden Lark. We can get into that, you know, the details, but there’s, there’s the reasons why he’s compelled to do what he does. And but once that’s revealed, it’s still a thriller, because it’s unclear if he’s going to be brought to justice. And so to kind of answer your question, I guess that’s what I found so compelling about it was the fact that she was able to introduce suspense in two very different ways by solving the crime halfway through.
Traci Thomas 6:07
Yeah, I love I love that, too. I love being like, Oh, we know who it is. And I also loved that the mom always knew who Yeah, right like that. There was a person who there was never any doubt, even though we didn’t know. And I think what’s interesting about having Joe this 13 year old boy, be the center of the story is that she’s able to slow play it because it’s like, oh, he’s just a teenager, he might not understand, like, how he didn’t pick up the gasoline thing. You know, it’s like, oh, she was covered in gasoline. And he went to get another match. And Joe is like, oh, he must have wanted to smoke a cigarette. And of course, as an adult reader, you’re like, he tried to burn her, you know, like, and so I thought that that really served the story as having Joe be a little bit naive to what’s going on, even though the mother always knew. And I liked how it like you said, after we find out that it’s Linden Lark, there’s still this question of like, well, what happens to him? Yeah, like, is he arrested? Is he held in jail? Is he prosecuted? And, you know, the linchpin I guess, of the story is that it’s unclear on which, under whose jurisdiction This crime has occurred, because the mother can’t remember names Geraldine can’t remember where she was specifically on the Roundhouse. Was she in federal state or tribal land? Which I mean, it’s like clearly just such a fascinating fucked up.
Mina Kimes 8:14
And real like that was while I was reading it, I put the book down halfway to better understand sort of the justice system and how I had no idea until I read this book, The the messy history of Justice on tribal lands, and how their own judicial system you know, you can’t prosecute people from outside and I’m, which is something you know, Louise Erdrich wrote a op ed, in the Times about, you know, just how much violence there is towards women on reservations and how difficult it is to prosecute the rapist or a soldier, especially if it’s again, people from the outside. I mean, I couldn’t believe it, I had no idea and it’s incredible that so much to your point, like, hinges in this book on something as seemingly arcane as like land rights and or like the location and I just thought the fact that she was able to weave that into this thrilling story, I thought was really amazing.
Traci Thomas 9:16
Yeah, I totally agree. I was really fascinated. I mean, the whole jurisdiction of tribal land is still being litigated and debated today. I mean, this book was written in 2012, which is not that long ago. But in the in the history of America, but is a long time to still think that like these questions are still coming up. I mean, the Supreme Court just had a case I think last year that took away tribal rights to have their own autonomy and things so like, this is not nothing new and also something that is very much current and present, which is like so fucked up. Like it’s just so crazy that you could rape someone and like, kidnap another person and abuse a child and depending on where everyone is standing, you can or cannot be brought to justice when there is proof that you did commit the crime. Like it’s just, oh,
Mina Kimes 10:11
No, I mean, the dad, who’s the judge who’s kind of stands in for, I want to, you know, fix the system and do things the right way and who sort of this? He’s very, like traditional morality in this book. And so but yeah, where he sits down and he uses like the casserole to explain to Joe How it works is so like I said, I read, I want to hit this again, but like, just to take something that feels so bureaucratic and on just like about the law, and then bring it to life and make you feel like what would it be like to actually be inside of this loophole? It just, it was such an interesting approach, I suppose or reason to write this.
Traci Thomas 10:51
Just what you just said made me think I wonder if Louise Erdrich when she was writing this was thinking of people who are like, not native or like, who do not have indigenous family and live on reservations and like, have that connection if she was thinking of us as Joe, and was like, I have to explain it to people who have like, no fucking understanding, like, they’re 13 years old. And I’m sure there’s, I mean, I don’t know. But if that was me, that’s how I would do it. Like, I’m gonna have a 13 year old character so that I can help teach these idiots and then people who do have this connection will be like, Yeah, I’m enraged, because I’m annoyed that like, we’re moving at this slow of a pace kind of thing. I think. I don’t know. It’s like an interesting way.
Mina Kimes 11:28
No, I love that idea. What a graceful way to set up exposition, which isn’t, you know, otherwise, it would be odd to have adult? I don’t know, you’re right. It. And again, what a great example of using literary fiction to make something real for people or to try to enact change. But yeah, I definitely. I felt that same sense of like, curiosity and innocence about all of this that I guess a child would.
Traci Thomas 11:56
We are all Joe in some way. Okay, I have a, I don’t know if you have a theory on this, but you know, the scene where they’re like, in the room, and it’s the mom, the dad, and Joe. And Basil is the dad is like, just, you know, casually talking about what’s going on. He’s like, you know, the governor’s like, gonna adopt this kid and like, whatever. And the mom goes, and like, pukes, and then she comes back in, and she kind of starts talking about what happened to her. She’s, she’s hard to explain. And I didn’t understand how the dad knew that that was the thing that was gonna get her to talk like how he had he figured it out? Had she told him? Was he just like, guessing and kind of like seeing if it would, if it would call her bluff? Or like, did you have a sense?
Mina Kimes 12:48
You know, I was wondering the same thing, because it’s weird, the revelation of who did it again, Linden Lark, it’s almost like, sudden, yeah, and when it happens, it’s all you’re right. It is revealed in a way that like, nobody’s surprised, which is really interesting, right? And earlier in the book, there’s a scene where Joe is, his dad has all these case files. And he’s in Joe, and he’s him and Joe are kind of going through them. And he’s explaining to them and basically, he’s looking for people who might have it out for him. Like cases he’s able to get, you know, and most of them have and one of those cases is the case you’re talking about, which is the case where Linden lark, basically tried to get the land belonging to his sister who was raised in his twin sister, who was raised by people in the tribe if I’m wrong, because I so he wanted you know.
Traci Thomas 13:40
She was born with some like physical deformities. Her she’s white, obviously, like Linden. Her white parents basically are like, we don’t want her and an indigenous woman in the community sort of, she was like a nurse at the hospital. And then she takes Linda, the sister, twin sister under her wing, and unofficially sort of adopts her into the family. And when her adoptive parents die, they leave the land. They leave some land to home to Linda and Linden and his mother or the birth mother Evelyn tried to like steal it back from them.
Mina Kimes 14:16
Exactly. And so the the judge rules in the favor of Linda or the her family and I felt like when he brings it up around his his wife, who then finally is like, yeah, it was points the finger and it was like, it did feel to me, like he had a suspicion. And so he was just kind of putting it out there because at that point, you know, the first half of the book is the mother like slowly recovering from this horrible trauma. And as you said, she knows, but she won’t say it. She won’t talk to the detectives. And the Father and the Son are kind of trying to bring her back to life in a way but also teases information out of her and I to me, it did feel a little bit deliberate. He kind of had his own way of going about seeking justice here. And it was different from obviously Joe’s and, and the but I did feel like the whole time he was working at it kind of slowly.
Traci Thomas 15:12
Yeah, that was my sense to that he was sort of just like seeing if it stuck, was just sort of came about, we didn’t see other scenes where he was throwing out ideas. But but I think by that point, Joe has mentioned the file. And so maybe that triggered something in the dad that was like, Oh, well, who would have a file, of course, and then Linden. He, so this file is of mela or Milea, who is an indigenous woman who has a young baby like a one year old baby. And the file names the father of the baby and the Father is the Senator. Right? The father is a senator, who is a white guy who has a really bad history on the Native American tribes in North Dakota, and did okay. This is why I also didn’t know did Linden work for the Senator. How was he connected to the Senator? Or was it just that they both because he had a thing with Milea thing with her or Mela?
Mina Kimes 16:18
Or he was like obsessed with her? Yeah, did in earlier in the book, they talk a little bit about how he was like, like a fan, almost of the senator or something or they talked, I might be misremembering this, but they They said he was kind of trying to associate with them or looked up to him in some way. And it felt entitled to this woman in the way that he felt entitled to the land. And that entitlement obviously was sort of the driving force for a lot of what he went on to do.
Traci Thomas 16:45
Okay, I couldn’t remember, when not, you know, when you’re reading and something happens, and you’re like, did I miss that? Or was that something I’m supposed to like, figure out on my own and I wasn’t sure. But anyway, so then he, he finds out that the actual father is listed on this file and the mother Geraldine is the file keeper in the community. And so she knows like everyone’s secrets, essentially. And so Mila, I’m calling her Mila. I like it. I’m calling her Mila. Mila calls Geraldine and is like I’m in danger over this file. That’s how she goes to the place to the Round House, which is where the crime takes place, and is the title of the book. And that’s where everything happens. Linden then drives a car into the lake. The car is Mila’s car, Mila goes missing, we don’t know where she is, we think we find out at the end that she’s dead because of like a drunk guy steals Joe’s bike being like, Was it a dream or not. But it’s not 100% Clear. We’re sort of jumping around. But I want to talk about this crime and then go back to some of the other stuff like Joe’s friends, because I feel like that makes the most sense to like how to do it. Oh, so then Joe goes to the Roundhouse with his friends. And then later he finds this doll with all this money in it like $40,000. And that’s money that the Senator has given to Mila and the baby to try to like, pay them off, essentially. I wanted more about that money, and how Joe grappled with that. Because once he realized he wasn’t like, what do I do with his money? He was like, oh, that’s where the money came from.
Mina Kimes 18:30
Yeah. And then well, well, yes. Well, first, when he gets it, he doesn’t know.
Traci Thomas 18:34
Right? He doesn’t know. Then he sees the car. And he sees like a cloth that matches the baby doll. And he’s like, Oh,
Mina Kimes 18:43
And by then he’s already gone to Sonia.
Traci Thomas 18:46
Yeah, the aunt.
Mina Kimes 18:48
The aunt, former stripper, who is an interesting and I think kind of important character. And, and two is a woman he’s kind of like sexually obsessed with. And he, he just goes, it was interesting to he just goes to her. I mean, there was like, an interesting choice. And she immediately helps him open up a bunch of accounts and puts it away. Well, and then you know, also kind of spending it before obviously, departing with like, 75% of it. But I think because of his initial reaction to it, like, keen, he never tells his parents, he keeps it from them. And then the sort of ensuing shame that it results in in terms of like his interactions with Sonia, which I’m sure we’re talking about. It almost is like a thing where like, he doesn’t want to grapple with it. He’s like, Alright, I got this. Like it, you know what I mean? Like, it’s because he because he’s never going to tell anyone about it. And so, he and also it’s dangerous that he has it and right, you know, Linden Lark is still out there. You know, he doesn’t know it. So it is kind of an odd I agree with you a little bit like he kind of puts it aside to me. I actually thought he was going to tell ya, it’s about it. And he just never does, which I thought was interesting, but there’s a lot of things that happen in this book that are kind of surprising in terms of like how he as a 13 year old handles things.
Traci Thomas 20:03
Totally, I really thought that like the money was going to come back in some way. And like he was gonna have to go back and get it or whatever. And it sort of like, just doesn’t, though there is this thing, there was this thing in me, right? Because Sony keeps telling him like, I want you to go to school, I want you to go to college, like use it for your college. And we do find out because this is this book is all like a flashback, told from Joe, but it’s a flashback to this time in 1988. And we do find out that Joe like goes on to become a lawyer and like, goes on to do these things. And so I do wonder like, did this money actually make a way for him? Like, did he does he use the money? Maybe? And then there’s also this whole, like, the convenience of the story? I mean, I think you have to have Joe’s dad be a judge or a lawyer involved in the law to explain it to him and to us what’s going on? And for him to have connections with like law enforcement. Like I think it’s just I think if he was the grocery store owner just wouldn’t work. You know what I mean? But there is this question of like, does Joe get to have this second chance at life? Because of his dad? And because of this money? And if so, especially the money part, like, is he not somehow implicated in this crime against his mom, right? Like this hush money for this illegitimate air quotes child?
Mina Kimes 21:22
I mean, he gets away with murder!!
Traci Thomas 21:25
He gets away with murder, but even if he didn’t murder him, but like, you know, AND because he murdered him.
Mina Kimes 21:31
Yeah. Well, that’s that’s what I think is so fascinating about the structure of the book, right? To your, to your point, the fact that it is told from the future so we as readers, we know, everything works out for Joe, we know he goes on to be like a prosecutor, I forgot if it was for the government, whatever. But he he’s clearly successful and fine and healthy. And he marries a woman who’s kind of makes a brief appearance in the book. Yeah. So all these decisions you make, you know, stealing the money, keeping some of it, never talking about it, ultimately, the shooting all of it. We like know how it ends, which I found to be so interesting. It’s such an interesting framework to view all of these choices this 13 year old makes, because if not, I think you would be reading them the money like you would read that thinking, oh my god, this is gonna come back to bite him. He’s gonna get in trouble for them to say nothing about the actual killing. Right. But yeah, I mean, he kept $10,000 and clearly used it.
Traci Thomas 22:25
Yeah, it didn’t come back as far as we know, because if it did, we probably would have found out about it. You know, he would have been like, Hey, then, I got held up for $10,000.
Mina Kimes 22:34
Like the bigger- the killing, the shooting of Linden Lark is, of course, the bigger plot point that introduces questions about morality and justice and retribution and all of that, but the money is a smaller version of that. Yeah. Like, he doesn’t do the right thing, which is so interesting, I think,
Traci Thomas 22:52
Okay, we’re gonna take a break and come back and talk about the murder. Okay, we’re talking about the murder. I’ve been waiting for 22 minutes and I haven’t even we haven’t even talked about the murder yet. So excited. So Linden lark, we find out he does it. He gets released from the jet from the jail because the land issue, the mom does not lie about remembering where the thing happened. In the beginning, she then goes back and says, If I knew that I needed to lie, I would have just lied. But then I didn’t lie. So I couldn’t go back and lie now, which I was literally like, Thank you, mom. Because I would lie to in a fucking heartbeat. In a heartbeat. I would lie. I understand that feeling of like, Fuck, I should have just lied, and I did it. And now I can’t lie, because I’m pro lying. But then, Joe is like, I’m going to take this into my own hands. I am going to learn how to shoot a gun. And then I’m going to kill Linden Lark on the golf course where he golf’s. He goes to Linda the sister and it’s like so you know, what’s your brother golf B and my dad might want to golf sometime again, pro lying. He finds out that he gets his best friend Cappy to help him learn how to shoot. He goes like three days in a row on the third day or the fourth day, he finds him there. He shoots him a few times, we find out the copy was there with him. And like was the one who basically studied the gun to make the kill shot. You and I talked before about True Biz, a book that you’ve read and a book that we did on this podcast in December of 2022. My biggest complaint with True Biz was that I thought the ending was too soft. And that if the big factory or whatever was gonna get blown up at the end. Why not just let the kids do it. And this book, she fucking lets the kids do it. And it is so gratifying. And to me that’s the difference between a book that is about young people for adults, and a book that is a little bit aimed more towards young people. Right is like Louise Erdrich was like you know what kids can do bad things too, kids can be passionate and empowered and make mistakes or make the right decision. I’m not actually going to moralize this murder. Like, I don’t know, he raped his mom and disappeared a woman and the baby. Like, I guess not a baby but made a baby an orphan. Sort of. So I would love to hear your thoughts about the murder.
Mina Kimes 25:22
Yeah, I didn’t think he would do it.
Traci Thomas 25:23
Me either! I thought she was gonna protect us, right? She was going to protect him and protect us. And we know he, we know he’s like a lawyer and all these things. So we just assumed he couldn’t possibly do it. Because how would you get to be a successful guy?
Mina Kimes 25:35
That’s exactly why the again, the framing of it sets up this expectation that at the end of the book, he’s gonna give the money back and they’re gonna find a way to maybe get him in prison or if not the, like, you know, other lessons will be learned. Looks like that. Now he just fucking does it. Right. And and when you’re reading it, you’re like, do it do it, do it, do it. And you’re so happy because that Linden Lark is portrayed as physical worse, your pure evil, like, clearly disturbed human who’s got, you know, who stands in for all of the ways in which these people have been violated? And, and so by the time it comes around, and you’re convinced to this point that justice will never be served? So in the moment, unlike, yes. And then afterwards is there’s kind of a reckoning because the book continues. And from there, Cappy who, by the way, we also know, at the beginning of the book that the first thing Joe tells us is that he’s dead. We don’t know when he’s dead. But he is clearly he becomes kind of as pages of the book, you know, are and as it goes on, it becomes clear how much he loves him and how beautiful their relationship is. And you talked about him shooting him. There’s this revelation that brought tears to my eyes, where he said he was there every morning. And just watching to Yeah, so at the end of the book there, you know, Cappy falls in love with this girl from like, this Christian thing, which is very, it’s one of the many funny things about 13 year olds in this book that is just, you know, part of the comic relief of the book. And so they’re driving to go see her and he dies at a car accident. And I guess that was the the incidents are not connected directly. But it almost felt like there’s so much in this book, they talk about the like, justice, and then what the costs are, and the the, I think the Catholic priest is the one who talks about how something good can come out of something evil and, and this in there, and I felt like, oh, I, there’s still a reckoning from this choice that’s unfolding and will probably unfold for the rest of this kid’s life. And he doesn’t give any indication of regretting it in when he tells his parents find out about it. But you don’t come out of it, feeling clean at all.
Traci Thomas 27:50
And he has like the sleeping problems, right? He’s like having these really bad nightmares and stuff. But I mean, I think like, this is sort of gets at this, I guess, my interpretation of the central quest question of this book, which is like, is justice a thing that is served by institutions? Is it a thing that served by communities? Is it a thing that served by protecting our loved ones or a thing that’s, you know, served by ratting people out? Like, there’s just these questions about what is just and what is not just in the world and in the story, and like we talked about earlier, how unjust, it seems that you could get raped on certain corners of certain pieces of land and be there’s no retribution in the court system. And, you know, this also is complicated by my personal feelings about prison abolition, and the quote, unquote, criminal justice system. And those things which I’m going to, you know, try to not bring too much into this. But there’s this question about, like, is killing a person? Bad? Always? Right, right. Like, that’s sort of the question, right, what Linden Lark does we feel as bad and what we feel that, you know, we’re sort of coached around feeling that what Joe does is isn’t as bad because it’s revenge, right? Yeah. But, you know, I guess that depends on your feelings about revenge.
Mina Kimes 29:19
Yeah, my feeling about it is he what he did was not morally wrong, but he shouldn’t have had to do it. And I think that’s, again to the structure of the book, where it’s kind of this two part. Thriller. Yulin, and Lars is just the surface villain of the book. He’s just any you just, you know, use disposable, right? But the real villain really is the fact that this 13 year old kid was putting this fucking position where he has to murder a kid because the justice system is so messed up. And so it’s like, you want him to do it, but you’re so sad that he has to write and I think that’s that’s how his parents felt at the like, there’s just that sadness and they keep going and they’re driving to the end. But it’s like, man, it’s so awful that all of these people were put in this position and that that has nothing to do with Linden Lark at the end. Right?
Traci Thomas 30:09
Right that that the system is such that the best possible answer for everyone to like ride off into the sunset is for a 13 year old to take on, or to feel that he has to take on, you know, this situation. And there’s also this thing that that’s talked about in the book is that Linden Lark is, uh, his uncle was responsible for a lynching of Native Americans, like in a previous generation, and that there’s like this generational violence. And I think that, you know, Louise Erdrich is getting it that in obvious ways by explaining that, but also less obvious ways, you know, like, where she’s talking about what you’re saying, it’s like, the only options at this point are revenge, or get over it, right? Like, there is no one else is coming to help you or save you, whether it’s Joe who does it or his dad or his uncle, or, or whatever, someone is going to have to take, quote, unquote, extra judicial revenge if, if we want something to happen. And part of me is like, I don’t know, I don’t know if it’s worse. Like one of my, one of my big things is like, I don’t believe in the death penalty, because I don’t think that the government should kill people. But I also feel like if someone kills your uncle, and you go and kill them, like, I’m okay with that, like, I’m sort of okay with, like vigilante justice in some ways, because it’s like a crime of passion. Versus like, if the government does arrest, Linden Lark, and he’s locked up for 10 years, like, that doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t help anything. So I don’t know, this book called, made me feel more frustrated about these things, but also made me feel like maybe our thinking of justice is just like, so skewed and fucked up that like something like this that maybe has like, kind of net positive, I’m like questioning?
Mina Kimes 31:57
Well, I mean, I think that was the point of having a 13 year old be the one that carries it out. Right? Because if, let’s say yt, his uncle had done it, probably feel okay. Like, I mean, certainly wouldn’t create this sense of angst and dissatisfaction and worry, I was just so worried about him after even though I knew he would be okay. Yeah, we know, he’s fine. But like, you just we know that 13 year olds shouldn’t have to do the plural. In this case, it’s two boys who do it shouldn’t have to do those things. They shouldn’t have to keep these kinds of secrets they shouldn’t know and learn as much as they do in this one summer. Because it’s, it’s coming of age novel, but in the worst possible in the best, funniest ways, right, you know, but then also in the worst way. So I think it was pretty deliberate on her part to kind of make us feel all those complicated feelings you’re talking about by having this, this sweet kid who’s like lovely, who ya come to really adore by the end, you know?
Traci Thomas 32:56
Yeah. And, and there’s also like, the governor, the Senate, I think maybe he’s the governor on the senator anyways, like the politician, you know, he ends up with a baby, a Native American baby, and he’s a known racist, like, anti indigenous person. And, like, there’s no justice there for that baby. Like, it’s like, we get this teeny tiny, like, we kill this one guy. And like, Yay, because Lyndon sucks, but it’s not like it changes anything. It’s not like, it makes a difference. It doesn’t, you know, balance the ledger for what’s going on. And I think that like that also is so unsettling, right? Like, there’s so many things that are gotten away with
Mina Kimes 33:44
I mean, it reminds me of the Night Watchman a little bit, and I’m, I suspect is probably a theme that you see across Louise Erdrich’s books, which is, you know, these people just fighting for, you know, peace and safety for their own families and kind of just scrapping for, you know, what they can take now in the face of such indignity and a ratio is a big thing in the nightwatchman, and I just I felt the way reading this one too, like at the end the families intact, but you know, at so much cost and there’s an there’s there’s some there’s a bit of justice, but it’s not enough. And yeah, it’s tough.
Traci Thomas 34:24
Yeah. And like the dads had a heart attack and we know it’s like the first of a few it sounds like it’s just like it’s this It’s brutal. I mean, it’s just so brutal. And even though the bad guy ends up dead, it doesn’t really feel like super doesn’t feel like Quentin Tarantino revenge fantasy, you know, like, it’s not like Hitler’s dad. It’s sort of just like, Yeah, okay, well, it’s still fucking sucks for everybody and now Cappy’s dead. I want to talk about Sonia, because yeah, that scene, the strip tease scene. Holy shit. That is a fucking iconic that scene is incredible. The Stacks Pack we have a Discord and people were like, holy shit chapter eight and then I got to chapter eight and I was like, holy shit chapter eight. It’s just so Sonia, the aunt who helps him deposit the money and then sort of like steal some of it to get like diamonds and pans and maybe like some cute boots and stuff. She goes after Joe’s grandpa turns like 103 or something she, her birthday present to him is that she’s gonna do a striptease dance because she’s like, hot and she’s a fun and she’s a good hang. And she gets it. He’s not getting any. He was an old man. He wants to feel young and sexy. So she goes over there and she’s like, Joe, you need to leave and Joe’s like, I’m not leaving. And she’s like, Joe, you need to leave and then Joe’s like, No, I’m not leaving. If if you make me leave, I’m going to tattle about the money or whatever. And so then she’s like, Fuck you, you piece of shit, and she does for striptease dance. And then afterwards, she basically read him for filth. And it’s like, you’re just like everyone else. I treated you nice. I treated you like a mother. I loved you. I cared for you. You were always looking at my tits. You always like, sure, you know? And then and then you’re true. And then and then you watch all the time in the weirdest way that I’m like, You’re not 13 Some of the writing about her breasts are just like, it’s written like a like, I don’t know, a 1942 romance novel anyways. And she basically is like, You’re no better than anybody else. And then she goes on to take the money. Leave him $10,000 And leave town. That scene. Incredible. I mean, Sonia is just like such an incredible character. She is such a force in the book. She’s not in it a ton. But every time she is it’s just like, whoa, like that the air is sucked out of the room.
Mina Kimes 36:55
Can I ask you a question?
Traci Thomas 36:56
Mina Kimes 36:57
So the book, you know, Joe’s, the narrator from the jump, so you’re always inclined to want what’s best for him and decide with him? Were you upset at all that she pieced out with most of the money?
Traci Thomas 37:06
Mina Kimes 37:07
Okay. I there was a part of me that was and I was kind of thinking I was a little bit conflicted about it. So
Traci Thomas 37:12
I was upset that she took the money because, of course, we’re rooting for Joe. And I also felt like it was sort of like a bitch move. Like, it’s like, okay, he brought the money give him at least 5050. But I also do understand, like, when she goes on to explain that YT her partner who’s not actually her husband, like wouldn’t marry her because he basically thought that she was like, you know, trash essentially like she was a stripper and these things and, and that she had this daughter who, you know, just you know, she had a tough, tough road. But I definitely was like, don’t take Joe’s money.
Mina Kimes 37:49
I did too. And it was interesting how chill he was about it, I think part because he knew it was new, gotten in you know, he wasn’t supposed to be his in the first place. And it but it was I thought it was interesting how he didn’t like freak out about it. But that scene I thought about a lot because I was like, what does this mean? Like, what what is this character’s role in this book? And I guess where I landed, and I’d love to hear what you think is amidst this, like very serious story about sexual violence and things men horrible things men do to women. There’s this simultaneous story, which is about a group of horny 13 year old boys and their sexual acts their first sexual experiences, and it’s really funny and sweet and stand by me ish. So stand by me. Oh my god. It’s like the same super charming and Kathy meets us. They’re obsessed with girls. They don’t really know either. 13 and I thought Sonia was kind of like, where those things intersected a little bit where what she does read him for filth. It’s his first realization that as a man who’s been ogling his woman the entire time give me a little bit of a shithead too and like there was you know, we talked about again like when you think about coming of age do you think so much about like falling in love whatever but that’s part of coming of age do is realizing the way you can affect women and how you they can you can they can feel terrible because of you and I the more I thought about it, the more I thought like, Okay, that was there was like a lesson in there for him.
Traci Thomas 39:17
Yeah, yeah, I mean, the way that women are talked about throughout the book, right, because there’s also this grandma character who’s like, loves dirty talk and like, wink wink nod nod. Yeah. And I feel like that’s sort of like an archetypal character right the like granny who like talks about sex and you can’t can’t help herself. And then you know, we have that’s like one and and then we have the mom that sort of like the other end that is destroyed by sexual violence. I mean, she’s not talking She’s not eating for a long time. Like she’s sort of a shell of a person. And then in the and then, like, you mentioned, there’s the Christian girl who loses her virginity to copy and then the other you know woman character is or the main one there’s an aunt somewhere but the main other one is Sonia. And she’s sort of empowered by her sexuality and loving and maternal and takes no shit from anybody but also is very vulnerable and fragile. And she is getting beat up by by Whitey and like she sort of embodies all of these different things of like, what a woman can be like that women can hold all sorts of things. And I I was really touched, I think the most by her humor, like her being like, Yeah, I’ll do a striptease show for grandpa like I don’t like I don’t care almost dies, but dies because he like has a heart attack ejaculating. Essentially, he’s like, comatose. But I just I love that part about her. Because I think so often. Women are some version of victim or horny or you know, like over sexualized or under sexualized or whatever. But they lacked like the agency that I think is what Sonia has is like, she’s like, this is a choice that I’m making. I’m choosing to do this strip show for grandpa, like, I’m not being forced, it’s something fun for me to do. I’m happy to make him happy. I love this person. And the same thing with how her relationship with Joe before he sort of gives her this ultimatum is like, she knows he’s looking at her that way. But she loves him and she appreciates that he’s a child and he’s figuring things out. And she always believed that he was a sweet boy, even if he was like coming into his sexuality and I just I really appreciate really appreciated that part of her as like that she had the humor and sort of the like casualness to be like, I’ve had a lot of really horrible things. But also, like, not every man is terrible. And, and it’s up to me to decide what I’m comfortable with and what feels safe. And it’s the second that Jo pushes her to do something, she doesn’t want to do that. She’s like, I’m going to do this. And then I’m going to let you know that I’m so much smarter than you. I’ve been through so much more than you. You’re 13 years old. And you’re going to learn today about women and I just it’s just such a fantastic fantastic scene and a moment and it in dear Sonia, it endeared Sonia to me in a way that I was not expecting. Right?
Mina Kimes 42:13
I think I think your read is so good. And like it really captures just like the complexity of sexuality, right. And again, in a book where there’s everything on the range of the gamut from a horrible, vile rate to a striptease for our grandpa. Right? And, you know, this woman being I think, sort of this symbol of like, well, you know, if she’s in control of the situation, if it’s wanted, if it’s fun, if it’s consensual, just there’s an anyway, 13 year old boy, you’re still learning about all that shit. Like, they’re still they have no idea. They try to learn about it from their priests, like, you know, I do think it’s such a pivotal moment for him as a boy to like, understand, oh, this woman is not just a sex object, right? And what is my role in this? And what are the lines that can and can’t be crossed? How does that work? I thought it was really, really interesting and really complicated.
Traci Thomas 43:07
Yeah. And so in addition to like, all of the Sonia stuff and like the sexual part of the Sonia stuff, there’s all this other weird like little sex stuff that comes up right like the girls and this like weird scene where they’re talking about the grandma talking about sex and then they all pull off and like go masturbate in the corners and like, very in the forest, very weird moment. But then there’s also like this, I mean, they’re, it’s a very strong choice to have this book about, essentially about a rape be told by the victim’s child who is a boy. Right? Like, we really never get into Geraldine’s head we really like it’s it’s a story about a rate, but it’s really a story about what a rape does to those around the person who has been victimized, right, like, and I think that that is an interesting way to think about to think about this kind of violence, right? Like, it’s like, we don’t actually hear from the woman. We don’t. The closest we get to hearing from any woman about sexual violence is this scene with Sonia, which is just a really interesting way to frame-
Mina Kimes 44:17
The actual rape is never described in not any detail. No. Yeah. Which is, I mean, it Yeah, so it’s like it this 13 year old, he- It was interesting to me how quickly he like, is told what happens. I guess Yeah.
Traci Thomas 44:35
But it’s like he doesn’t I think part of partially what happens in the scene with Sonia is like, he doesn’t actually understand what rape is. He knows that. It’s like some sort of sexual violence, but he doesn’t really know. And I think this scene was Sonia, sort of the first time that he understands that like, what he’s done is maybe perhaps a form of sexual violence, right? 100% Yeah, I think
Mina Kimes 44:54
Yeah. Which is interesting, because it’s so relatively small. You just look at her boobs, right? But like, understanding like the effect that you as a very, very young man can have on a woman that she’s noticed this whole time. Right that when you did this other thing, it suddenly cast it in a different light. You know, it is a powerful thing for him to learn, I think. Yeah. Even though it’s so very different.
Traci Thomas 45:17
Yeah. Do you have I wonder if you have more thoughts about the boys themselves like the group of boys and sort of that that like framing and I mean, definitely team Cappy love Cappy but they go do they run around? They do much stuff they eat peanut butter and pickle sandwiches which is just such a hard no for me.
Mina Kimes 45:34
I think my favorite scene of there’s not that but is the one where they they’re really into Star Trek, which they talk about a lot. And one of them has, like, you know, ability to watch on TV or something. But there’s a part where they compare their penises to Star Wars character. Yes. Where it’s what do Darth Vader right you’re circumcised are not really I was like Luis Yeah, these really got you really nailed these 13 year old boys because that is it. Which is it’s funny. And I think it’s, it’s it brings a lot of lightness to the book, you know, which is otherwise pretty heavy that all of the scenes with the three of them bopping around and just getting into 13 year old boy stuff. And it’s such a that was like I talked about stand by me there’s a little bit of there’s a little bit of a lot of books in this. But I that was I thought a really, I think I ultimately, I really did love the fact that she told it from their point orally from Joe’s point of view, but like to make it again, a coming of age story in multiple ways I thought was really really astute and made you like feel it all kind of in a different way. That was really unique.
Traci Thomas 46:44
Yeah, it just gives so much heart to the book. I mean, there’s definitely parts where I was like, this is running a little long and some of the French friendship stuff I do. It’s being dude. Yeah, I just I’m like, I don’t know, I don’t really care about your penises. Like, I don’t know, it’s a little much for me. But I think it was important. I thought this up like the priest was really great. I sort of liked him. He you know, he’s, he’s blown up in the Beirut embassy bombing in 1983. He’s he’s had some severe some major surgery in his nether regions. And he’s like, real fit real aggressive, not not your typical priest. But he has, you know, some wisdom and there’s a scene where it’s very early when they’re I think, when Louise is explaining, like describing the priests when they’re watching him through the window or whatever. And because
Mina Kimes 47:33
They think he might have done it.
Traci Thomas 47:34
Yeah, they think he might have done exactly, but she liked describes him in this. I just like the way that she explains I’m like, Oh, of course, like, that’s exactly who that man is. And I think that’s one of her, like skills in this book is that she can give you a few sentences about someone and you’re like, I know exactly what that person looks like. I know exactly who that person is. I know how like- where their pants ride. Like it’s like you could just yeah, you just feel you just feel the person and just you know, three or four sentences which I really loved.
Mina Kimes 48:03
She really captures how when you’re 13 Certain adults are just larger than life. Yeah, and and your world is small. And so we were so focused on a Sonia or I think it was Travis Yeah, Father Trump, whatever. And they’re all you think about and all you talk about you want to everything about them and she I feel like just makes it so believable that like they would be the subject of fascination of these 13 year olds. Yeah, it’s I love like friendship- I don’t know. I just love reading like, I love books that make me feel like the kids are really friends because they you know, it’s such a to be that age. Like it’s such a emotional bond that is weirdly forged when you’re talking about your dicks and stuff. And then when you get all of that I think you kind of have to have to get to the point where when you realize Kathy’s been following him every day you cry a little bit right because she is she did I do think like you need that investment in their friendship to make it hit so so hard at the end.
Traci Thomas 49:06
I think you’re right, I just you know, have no heart so I’m like, enough of these friends. I also loved how they were always like looking where to go so they could eat it was like oh who will feed us? Like that also feels really spot on.
Mina Kimes 49:18
So much of the book is just like them trying to find someone to get them sandwiches.
Traci Thomas 49:24
Them drinking milk. I love milk but even I don’t drink that much but they were like drinking constantly. I’m like it’s the middle of the summer you guys hot like Oh, curdled milk in the middle of the day.
Mina Kimes 49:35
Like this would be such a good movie though.
Traci Thomas 49:36
Yes. Oh my god would be such a good movie. I mean, it’s also like Now and Then like Boys’ Now and Then.
Mina Kimes 49:42
Yeah, right like riding their bikes
Traci Thomas 49:45
Like trying to figure out about a murder or death or whatever. It’s totally totally that someone mentioned similar like the some of the friendship stuff in this book, felt similar to the TV show Reservation Dogs which I haven’t watched but like it has that same kind of like friendship vibe. Did you know that she wrote this book after her cancer diagnosis, like during, she’s diagnosed with breast cancer like, and wrote this book in a few months during that time, which I also thought was really interesting thinking about like the mother child dynamic and, and sort of this like fear of your parent never coming back or never being normal again, I don’t know. It just was sort when I read that after I finished the book, and it sort of like haunting a little bit.
Mina Kimes 50:31
I mean, she definitely cares a lot about familial bonds. And, but gosh, and again, I’ve only read a couple of but like, both this book and then I Watchmen, you’re just the thing that over the overriding feeling is like, Oh my God, these families love each other so much. Now, it’s an interesting decision, though, to make it be about the son’s perspective of his own parents. And I guess sort of the losing a little bit of innocence and wanting to protect them and do the thing that his dad doesn’t do. But that’s that is really interesting that you had that that state of mind, I suppose in writing this.
Traci Thomas 51:06
Yeah. Before we get out of here, we always talk about the cover and the title. We sort of mentioned where the title comes from, which is this the place where the where the rape and happens, which is the round house, I struggled to understand the significance of that, like not push story did you have that? I’m always really bad with like a dream within a dream or a story within a story. I’m always just like being drained. Yeah, I’m like, I can’t I hate this. I one of the things I hate in books when it’s like, oh, this, this person is like sleep talking. I’m like, Okay, gotta go. But I would love to hear what you thought about it, because I did not have a good read on it.
Mina Kimes 51:44
Yeah, so I guess so the grandpa Mamout- I forget his name. So he tells the story of why you sleeping of the Round House, which is basically Nana push was the name, I think, um, you know, several generations ago, a young man who was saved essentially, when a buffalo let him like, crawl into inside the buffalo, right? Because just to do not freeze to death and whatnot. And so he and the ultimate landing in North Dakota, they built this as like, kind of almost like a sacred space. As a testament to that act of preservation. I suppose my only read on it was the fact that this thing that was built with this intention of being a sacred space, a safe space, a protected space, ultimately, the very location of it ended up being the cause of so much pain and harm and whatever. To me, it was just a kind of a further, and there’s a lot of in this book, just another example of how, how these, this tribe, in particular, couldn’t protect itself. And the thing that was supposed to be safe was actually dangerous. That was my read on it. Just because the location is so important to the actual crime.
Traci Thomas 53:04
Yeah, there’s a few other events that happen near and around the Roundhouse that we learned about when the father is going through the files with with Joe. And, you know, one of them is like, there’s a drunk guy who dies and he tries to be the family tries to pick you should have protected him or something. It was sort of like an accidental death. And the dad’s like, there’s nothing we could do here. And then of course, this event happens there. And there’s all just like particular particulars of the location and what that exactly means and and I guess to your point, it sort of like makes the space like a hostile space right like It’s like we can’t we can’t feel fully safe or whole here because it is not fully ours. And there’s a question about what What’s touching what and who is responsible for which pieces of this thing I think that you know, that’s sort of my sense of it, but it’s a great title because it comes up so I think it’s like page 54 is the first time we hear about the round house and so it’s like kind of like always like looming as well, this place-
Mina Kimes 54:14
Yeah, we’re like why does this why is it matter that it happened here? Whatever. And it turns out it matters a lot.
Traci Thomas 54:19
It’s like key. Key. The cover- I there’s a few covers, I have this one with the red- There’s also one that’s like gray with like, kind of like rose gold colored something on it. But this one that we have is like it’s white with a woman’s head and her hair kind of flowing and you can see one eyebrow and then everything else about her is covered up in a red sheet kind of all blowing to the right if you’re looking at it, and I think it’s kind of a creepy good cover. I did look it up Louise Erdrich’s daughter Asia Erdrich, she designed this cover and a lot of her other covers almost all of them for a while now. So I thought that was really fucking cool
Mina Kimes 55:09
I maybe I don’t know if it’s the same daughter but I remember reading an article about her when elite maybe the only one that her I don’t know works at her bookstore you know that she has a different daughter she has
Traci Thomas 55:19
Yeah, she has like three or four daughters
Mina Kimes 55:22
What a fantasy of writing life to have like this bookstore that people I mean not not of her life but like, I read that she like writes the little notes that you see at bookstores. Imagine like walking into a bookstore. It’s like, oh, Louise Erdrich wrote all these. It’s so crazy to me.
Traci Thomas 55:38
Yeah, she has I think she has three or four daughters. She also was married before to a man who was then like accused of sexual abuse against their children, not not Louise’s children, I believe they were his children from a previous or something like that. And it’s like this very traumatic story that I read all of this after finishing the book. And I was like, Oh, this shows up here as well. Right? Like, but yes, one of her daughters does the covers, one of her daughters manages the bookstore, one of her daughter’s like helped take she’s like, thanked in the acknowledgments helping to like take care of her during her cancer treatments. And then they have a younger, a younger daughter who’s like, maybe, like 12. Or maybe she was 10 or 12 at the time of this book. So maybe she’s 20 now. I think that’s everything? Is there anything else that we didn’t talk about that you’re like, I feel like we have to talk about it?
Mina Kimes 56:36
No, I just listening to you talk about I didn’t know that much about her life. But I can see why she’s the kind of person who would be interested in the idea of children protecting their parents and yeah, how that affects them. Yeah. Total, in addition to obviously, the larger themes of like, what it means about justice and tribal life and all of that. Yeah, no, I’m I’m really glad we read this book I was about we just talked about it because it’s a really complicated book, like really complicated themes. And I feel like talking about it, I felt like I kind of understood some of them a little bit better. Oh, Greg, me too.
Traci Thomas 57:05
I know I was nervous. I always get nervous with fiction books. I’m like, I don’t know if I understood what the author is trying to do. So it’s always helpful to like talk it out. Mina, thank you so much for being here.
Mina Kimes 57:16
Thank you for having me. I enjoyed this.
Traci Thomas 57:18
And everyone else. We will see you in the stacks.
Alright, y’all, that does it for us today. Thank you so much listening and thank you again to Mina Kimes, for being our guest. And now it is time for the announcement of our book club selection for March. Our book is the iconic collection of essays Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. We will discuss the book on Wednesday, March 29th. And make sure you listen next week on March 1 to find out who our guest will be. If you love the show and want inside access to it. Head to patreon.com/thestacks to join the Stacks Pack. Make sure you’re subscribed to The Stacks wherever you listen to your podcasts and if you’re listening through Apple podcasts or Spotify be sure to leave us a rating and a review. For more from The Stacks follow us on social media at thestackspod on Instagram and at thestackspodunderscore on Twitter and check out our website thestackspodcast.com This episode of The Stacks was edited by Christian Duenas with production assistance from Lauren Tyree. Our graphic designer was Robin MacWrite. And our theme music comes from Tagirijus. The Stacks is created and produced by me Traci Thomas.
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