Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Review: There There

There There There There by Tommy Orange
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish I hadn't read this immediately after In Our Mad and Furious City because the structure is SO similar that I was confusing some pieces. Alternating viewpoints, varying points of view and tense, etc.

Tommy Orange is focusing on the present-day experience of the Urban Indian. (He uses the word Indian so I will too; I would probably go with a more PC term if I were to do it.) Set in Oakland, CA, it follows a bunch of people who are connected in some way, all moving toward a major powwow event at a stadium.

There are some pieces in the beginning and halfway through that feel like the author confronting the reader, and I felt like maybe I did need to be confronted... Despite everything I've read and despite growing up in the northwest, I didn't have any idea that 70% of our native population lived in urban areas and not on reservations. Ugh, I feel dumb.

One thing that Orange seems to be discussing is the issue of family vs. isolation. There is a difference between how a tribe used to function when everyone lived and worked together and now, when people have moved around and aren't in contact. The story works toward a finale where people are more connected but it is empty, it is violent, it is unsatisfying. Even in connection, what is mostly felt is loss.

The ending seems to be in tribute to Tarantino (I wouldn't have known that, I don't watch his films, but the author is a fan and this is mentioned several places.) I didn't care for it, to me it took the oomph out of a thoughtful, meaningful novel by reducing it to a cinematic finale. I think this is a common mistake of the first novel, honestly. We don't need it to be so dramatic! Real life has enough drama.

I like the different people portrayed, how all characters are at least part native but their lives are unique - more of this please, more real life, more people how they are, not as how we've written them for centuries.

The style of writing and the pacing make for a quick read, and I devoured it in an afternoon. After being on the hold list at my public library for a few months that felt a little anticlimactic!

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