Monday, May 27, 2019

There There

There There by Tommy Orange (2018)

In Tommy Orange's award-winning debut novel, a large cast of Native Americans will be attending a powwow in Oakland, California. This is a big money event, and one group sees it as a opportunity. Armed with 3D-printed guns, they plan to rob the organizers.

We first meet Tony Loneman, recruited to help smuggle the bullets to the coliseum. Tony was born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome but wants people to see him, not just what he calls the Drome. In the next chapter we're introduced to Dene Oxendene, a filmmaker applying for a grant. He'll be interviewing Native Americans to hear their stories, especially urban stories, and he'll do some of this at the upcoming powwow. Next is Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield, caretaker for her sister's grandchildren including one of our other narrators, Orvil Red Feather, whose mother, Jacquie Red Feather is a substance abuse counselor and an alcoholic and yet another narrator.

And so on and so forth, each chapter focusing on a different character, not repeating one until probably halfway through at which point I couldn't even remember who was who. I had to go back and skim some of the chapters to remind myself who a particular character was. Some of them were connected, like the members of the Bear Shield/ Red Feather family, while others had more tenuous connections to each other. But all were somehow involved in the powwow that the story led up to.

Predictably, the robbery went awry and you know when a gun appears early in a story it will be used to shoot at least one person before that story concludes, so there are no real surprises here. Unfortunately it all ends rather abruptly when the big event occurs, leaving unanswered questions and no resolutions. I don't mind an ambiguous ending, but everything was left so suspended in mid-air that I question the whole point of this story and what I was supposed to get out of it. Here I go talking myself down from a 3-star rating to a 2-star.

Had there been more opportunity to get into any of the characters, I would have liked this much more. I thought the first hundred pages or so were great, but then I realized that ever more characters would be added without revisiting the ones we already met (well, we do revisit them, but only briefly.) The result was that it was too disjointed for me to fully get into and ultimately the whole thing fell rather flat.

This has been a very popular book since it came out and I tried it despite not being hooked by the description. I know it's hard to tell from a summary so I like to try a book for myself when there are so many positive reviews, in this case from friends as well as reviewers. The author is definitely talented and if he writes a novel that sticks with a character longer, I would be happy to read it. This one, though, just wasn't for me.

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