Sep 11 2018

There There by Tommy Orange

Tommy Orange is such a superlative writer that he can do things that irritate the hell out of me in other books and somehow make them work. And better than work: he creates magic on the page.

It’s not really a spoiler to say that There There ends with multiple storylines left unresolved. In the most glaring example, the penultimate chapter has a sort-of family gathered in a hospital awaiting the fate of a loved one, and you never find out what happens. In any other book, this would drive me insane, but it absolutely and utterly works in this chronicle that is as much a slice of life as it is a fictional narrative. Collecting the stories of American Indians who live primarily in Oakland, California, it is a searing examination of Urban Indians and the many ways they deal, or attempt to, with heritage, identity and survival. Each individual’s story is interwoven into what feels like a living tapestry, almost as if this book is a prose and fictional version of the oral history one of the characters, Dene Oxdene, is compiling for his documentary. And that’s partly why the lack of resolution works: because this narrative stretches so nimbly and powerfully between the past and the present, it feels natural and complete. The future is unwritten because, if you’ll forgive the tautology, the future is unwritten. There There is one of the most immediate books I have ever read, and while I didn’t necessarily understand each character’s feelings, I could absolutely accept their validity because of the way Mr Orange presents them. That is no small feat. This is a superlative book that needs to be more widely read, especially if you have an interest in the American Indian experience. Mr Orange has written something truly special here.

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