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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

"There, there" by Tommy Orange

Stories of urban Native Americans in and around Oakland, California. The prologue describes the background: the terrible history of genocide and persecution endured by the Native Americans. This suggests that the novel will be highly politicised. But when we start we discover that it is much more about the stories of individual people, some good, some bad, most damaged. And all living people with every right to love and respect. In the end this is not a plolemic on behalf of the much-wronged Native Americans as a chronicle of the tragedies of the wasted lives of poor people in any city anywhere in the world: “Go sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples fall and pile around you, wasting all that sweetness.” (p 21)

At the start this seems like a whole bunch of disconnected stories. Then it becomes apparent that there is a connection: all of the characters are connected to the forthcoming powwow soon to be held in the Coliseum at Oakland. But some are intending to stage an armed robbery for the prize money, others are intending to dance for the prize money, some are organising it, one is collecting video histories of Native Americans and will have a recording booth at the powwow etc. And then it becomes clear that many of these characters are related and that at the powwow will be a man and his estranged father and a woman and the man who raped her and three boys and their grandmother and so forth. One begins to fear that all these testimonies might be the stories of the dead.

So at the start all the stories seem disconnected. In part one the reader encounters four apparently unrelated characters. So this felt a bit of an uphill struggle. It is not till part two starts (one quarter of the way through) that the first story links to another. The four new characters in part two are all linked to the first story. About half way through we begin to repeat some of the stories and the book starts to resemble a more conventional novel. Then we are on a downhill ride to the shocking denouement.

There is no doubt that Mr Orange can write. The scenes at the end of the book were brilliantly described.

Great lines:

  • We stayed because the city sounds like a war, and you can't leave a war once you’ve been, you can only keep it at bay - which is easier when you can see and hear it near you, that fast metal, that constant firing around you, cars up and down the streets and freeways like bullets.” (p 9)
  • The Drome taught me to look past the first look people give you, find the other one, right behind it. All you gotta do is wait a second longer than you normally do and you can catch it, you can see what they've got in mind back there. ... I know what it looks like when somebody’s trying to come up on me, like when to cross the street, and when to look at the ground and keep walking. I know how to spot a scaredy-cat too. That one's easy. They were that shit like there's a sign in their hands, the sign says: Come Get Me. They look at me like I already done some shit, so I might as well do the shit they’re looking at me like that for.” (p 17)
  • I ... watched the drunks move around under the glow of the streetlights, all stupid like moths drunk on light.” (p 22)
  • She lost hold of the plate she'd been drying. They both stared at pieces of it on the floor between them.” (p 35)
  • We don't have time, Nephew, time has us. It holds us in its mouth like an owl holds a field mouse. We shiver. We struggle for release, and then it pecks out our eyes and our intestines for sustenance and we die the death of field mice.” (p 36)
  • The individual people and stories that you come across are not pathetic or weak or in need of pity ,and there is real passion there, and rage.” (p 40)
  • The problem with Indigenous art in general is that it's stuck in the past. The catch, or the double bind, about the whole thing is this: If it isn't pulling from tradition, how is it Indigenous? And if it is stuck in tradition, in the past, how can it be relevant to other Indigenous people living now?” (p 77)
  • I think about my college days. About how long ago that was and how hopeful I'd been. How impossible my current life would have seemed to me then.” (p 77)
  • “It just seems like young people have taken over the place. Even the old people in charge, they're acting like kids. There's no more scope, no vision, no depth. We want it now and we want it new.” (p 82)
  • This world is a mean curveball thrown by an overly excited, steroid-fueled kid pitcher, who no more cares about the integrity of the game than he does about the Costa Ricans who painstakingly stitch the balls together by hand.” (p 82 - 83)
  • "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children." (p 136)


August 2018; 290 pages

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