Review: There There by Tommy Orange

36356614Verdict: Stunning.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Literary Fiction

Published by Vintage/ Harvill Secker, July 5th 2018.

Find it on Goodreads.

Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame in Oakland. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life together after his uncle’s death and has come to work the powwow and to honor his uncle’s memory. Edwin Black has come to find his true father. Thomas Frank has come to drum the Grand Entry. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil Red Feather; Orvil has taught himself Indian dance through YouTube videos, and he has come to the Big Oakland Powwow to dance in public for the very first time. Tony Loneman is a young Native American boy whose future seems destined to be as bleak as his past, and he has come to the Powwow with darker intentions—intentions that will destroy the lives of everyone in his path.

Fierce, angry, funny, groundbreaking—Tommy Orange’s first novel is a wondrous and shattering portrait of an America few of us have ever seen. There There is a multi-generational, relentlessly paced story about violence and recovery, hope and loss, identity and power, dislocation and communion, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. A glorious, unforgettable debut.

This debut is absolutely 100% incredible. Marlon James called it a thunderclap and I have to agree. This might be my favourite read of the year so far. And as is often the case when I adore a book this much, writing a review does not come particularly easy because I want to do it justice without just reverting to hyperboles.

This book is told from 12 widely different perspectives that converge on the Big Oakland Powwow, and also includes some non-fiction parts in between. It is impeccably structured in a way that was both entertaining and heartbreaking and also very clever. I happen to really adore short stories that connect to a greater whole – and the first occurence of each person could stand on its own in a way that I found highly impressive.

The voices are distinct and different, in tone and narrative choice, in the way their language flows and in the metaphors they use – I found the way Tommy Orange juggles these different styles impressive without being just that. Sometimes, when a book is this accomplished it feels very dry and intellectual, but this one was also very raw and honest and also angry in a way that really worked for me. Tommy Orange shows a great tenderness for his characters in all their flaws (and there are plenty).

The book is funny and sad and poignant and just so so so well done. I do not have the words except to urge you to read it. I will be reading anything Tommy Orange decides to write next.

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