The Round House is Louise Erdrich’s 26th book and practice has made perfect. Riveting, paradigm-shifting, and expansive, The Round House has won the National Book Award as well as many others. It delves into race, religion, socioeconomics, truth, revenge, and justice. And it makes for a compelling discussion among your next book club meeting.
One Sunday in the spring of 1988, a woman living on a reservation in North Dakota is attacked. The details of the crime are slow to surface as Geraldine Coutts is traumatized and reluctant to relive or reveal what happened, either to the police or to her husband, Bazil, and thirteen-year-old son, Joe. In one day, Joe’s life is irrevocably transformed. He tries to heal his mother, but she will not leave her bed and slips into an abyss of solitude. Increasingly alone, Joe finds himself thrust prematurely into an adult world for which he is ill prepared.
While his father, who is a tribal judge, endeavors to wrest justice from a situation that defies his efforts, Joe becomes frustrated with the official investigation and sets out with his trusted friends, Cappy, Zack, and Angus, to get some answers of his own. Their quest takes them first to the Round House, a sacred space and place of worship for the Ojibwe. And this is only the beginning.
-From the publisher, Harper Collins
Discussion Questions for The Round House
Louise Erdrich’s publisher, Harper Collins, offers a lengthy list of discussion questions. As always, consider these additional questions as well:
- Why do you think the author chose to have Joe narrate the story? How did his perspective color/influence the story?
- How do we struggle with reaching/helping people who are caught in the cycle of grief? Joe can’t reach his mother and force her to resume living. How do we force/or drop the ball on others who need help?
- Can you name an instance when you reached out to help someone struggling? Did it end well or was there an adverse reaction?
- Why do you think Joe’s mother wouldn’t name the place where the rape occurred? Do you think she truly didn’t know or is she keeping quiet? Considering the crime of rape is true, do you think it would be ethical of her to bend the facts on the location?
- Joe is 13 when his mother is raped, which is a pivotal coming of age time for boys. Do you think his actions and reactions would have been different if he had been 8 or 9? What about if he was 18?
- What is your definition of justice? Does perspective, relationship, time, space, etc. affect justice?
- Have you ever sat on a jury? Do you think you are a good judge of character?
- If Joe were to stand trial for the murder of his mother’s rapist, how do you think he would be found? Guilty? Not guilty? How would you vote?
- What’s your opinion on the balance in the universe? His friend had to die at the end, because a death equaled a death. Do you think the universe finds equilibrium?
May words nourish your soul.
As a fellow participant of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I heard Erin Morgenstern’s name before she was actually published. Her debut book, The Night Circus, created a metric ton of ballyhoo prior to publication. She was touted as the next Harry Potter, even snagging the phenomenal Jim Dale to narrate the audio version of her magical book.
And like other NaNoWriMo success stories, the overnight success was preluded by years of hard work. “A very sprawling, very rough draft of The Night Circus was first written in a few different Novembers of NaNoWriMo. Almost the entire book was rewritten and revised before it got from there to the finished version. To give you an idea of how much: Celia isn’t in that first sprawling draft. It is a lot of stuff about the circus but not a lot of plot, but it gave me something to work from,” Erin has written on her blog.
But the professional polish and imaginative story stands alone, creating a wondrous world which will lasts long past the last page.
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.
From Random House
Erin Morgenstern’s publisher, Random House, has a wonderful selection of book club discussion questions here. But as always, here at the Reader’s Feast, we have a few more questions to round out your discussion.
- The circus vignettes are disconnected from the narrative and written in second person, making them intimate, vivid, and memorable. Readers seldom encounter second person point of view. (Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney is one of the few notable novels written in second person.) Was it jarring to you or did it draw you in? Could you imagine yourself at the circus?
- What tent or exhibition would you most want to visit? What foods would you want to taste? What feature would you avoid?
- Like magic, the story is revealed through sleights of hand—juggling the past with the present, hiding pertinent information until the last moment, and providing misdirection. How was the story enhanced (or lessened) by the tricks?
- Was it fair for the circus members to be pulled into a contract without their approval? Were the benefits (agelessness, travel, etc.) enough to outweigh the risks?
- Prospero has a mental and magical hold on Celia, including after his “death.” How can a ghost of a person be stronger than a real person?
- Marco and Celia struggle with balancing the ever-expanding circus. How is this a reflection of how we overextend ourselves?
- There are several pairings in The Night Circus. Marco and Celia, Poppet and Widget, Celia and Herr Thiessen, Marco and Isobel, and Tara and Lanie Burgess. Bailey is one of the few unpaired individuals. How does this make him different? Would he make a different decision about joining the circus if he was paired? Is Poppet enough for him or is she too closely paired to Widget to fully give herself to Bailey?
- Have you ever been behind the scenes of a circus, a play, a restaurant, a special production, etc? What was disconcerting about the behind the scene look? What took you by surprise?
- The reveurs were like followers of a cult. Today’s culture offers several cult options, such as certain events, movie franchises, some stories, etc. What elements are often found in a cult? (Some ideas: a universal truth, compelling characters, likeminded individuals, common ground, etc.)
- Who would you cast in the movie of The Night Circus, which is in the works?
- The circus would be nothing without its audience. Why do stories need to be told and heard to release their power?
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is as magical as its many, varied tents. It is a book that invites us to visit repeatedly—studying for the sleights of hand, reimagining the character’s motivations and desires, and relishing its promised delicacies.
On Wednesday, I will share the recipe for Black and White Red Velvet cookies, with a nod towards the reveurs of the Le Cirque des Rêves.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is one of the top reads in 2012 and absolutely viral in nature. Anyone who read it was anxious to pull others into its vortex, to share in the delicious, twisted secrets. It’s distinctive cover was seen in airports, on newsstands, in doctor’s offices, and on every subway. It was inescapable—and for good reason.
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick Dunne’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick Dunne isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but hearing from Amy through flashbacks in her diary reveal the perky perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge.
Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister Margo at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was left in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
Employing her trademark razor-sharp writing and assured psychological insight, Gillian Flynn delivers a fast-paced, devilishly dark, and ingeniously plotted thriller that confirms her status as one of the hottest writers around.
LitLover’s has an excellent reading guide here.
For a deeper conversation, consider these additional questions:
- Flynn reveals everyone’s character flaws piece by piece. How were you drawn in, not knowing all the facts right away? Were you anxious to learn more or irritated?
- Amy is essentially a child celebrity. In today’s fame-fueled society, do you think children are protected from or exploited for fame? Would Amy be the same person today if she wasn’t featured in her parent’s books?
- How does marriage define a spouse’s character? If you are married (or have been married), how have you been bettered by your spouse? What bad habits or character traits have you inherited?
- Can you ever truly know the other person? Have you ever been blindsided by someone? What blinds us to seeing a betrayal coming?
- Do you need a protagonist to root for? Most the characters are unlikeable. Did this diminish your enjoyment of the book or were you still fascinated?
- Was there a moment when you stopped feeling sorry for Amy? When did you start feeling sorry for Nick?
- Who would you cast in the movie roles of Nick and Amy?
- Treasure hunts are typically considered romantic, yet Amy manages to make it predatory and calculating. How does Amy’s preplanning make her crimes even more disturbing?
- Flynn has said about the ending, I wrote the ending that was the most unsettling to me. I am a big fan of the ending of unease. To me it feels real and it feels unnerving. Because you may not know exactly what is going to happen next in Gone Girl World, but you know it’s not good. What kind of endings do you like best?
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn earned its place on The New York Times best sellers list. Because of its twisted and surprising revelations, it is this decade’s Sixth Sense, in literary form. On Wednesday, the Readable Feast will feature Wedding Cake Petit Fours.