I am so here here for ‘There There’
There There is the literary debut of Tommy Orange that’s been heralded by many readers as a knockout contender of the year. More or less, from booktubers to booksellers, my interactions with this title have all held the same sentiment of Peter Kavinsky passing love notes to Lara Jean Song Covey.
So I read it, and it did not disappoint. This post does contain spoilers, so head over to my goodreads review for my initial thoughts after I finished. The novel follows twelve characters as they get ready for the upcoming powwow in Oakland, California. Powwows are these gatherings that bring Natives together from all around the country. It’s like an intertribal festival, a place where they can don their regalia, sing and dance traditional songs, make money, and work together to make being together possible.
For these twelve characters, something different is pulling each of them to the powwow. For Dene Oxedene, it’s his documentary film. He’s on a mission to document as many Native stories as he can. His project receives a grant so he sets out to collect these stories and as the powwow approaches he reserves his space where he’ll record as many stories as possible. For Daniel Gonzales, he’ll be there with a camera too, but virtually. Daniel’s involved with a more sinister plan for the powwow along with Tony Loneman, Octavio Gomez, and Calvin Johnson. And then there are the Red Feather brothers, Orvil, Lony, and Loother who are going there to connect with their heritage in various ways. For sisters Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield and Jacquie Red Feather, they must confront their past and make amends for their transgressions. For Blue and Edwin Black, they are in charge of the safe, an opportunity that allows them to make sense of their relationship because they’ve been vibing.
And then you have Thomas Frank on drums and Bill Davis on brooms, rounding out this dozen of characters who lend their voices to the chorus of Tommy Orange’s synchronistic undertaking. The harmony of the various Native experiences, the instrumentation of the generational urban experience, the contemporary technologies, and the traditional ties to a history of violence too often heard from one perspective, makes for one of the most indelible literary experiences of 2018.
The novel begins with a prologue of America’s violent relationship with the Native population and has an interlude of what the Native experience looks like today. The rawness of the history for those who have been displaced rings through the Gertrude Stein line, “There is no there there,” which anchors this novel. There is a reckoning, from the gun violence that runs rampant in the nation to the detachments and broken relationships that plague these characters, we see the past and the present play out in an extraordinary way.
It’s a gritty, compassionate, and delicate portrayal of people with altered states of being finding their place in the now.