There There

Tommy Orange

Book cover

This novel deserves the hype it’s gotten. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as a white man, even one who has lived in the Bay Area, I had never thought at all about communities of Native people living in urban settings, and specifically in Oakland, which is Orange’s focus in the novel. So I really appreciated seeing Orange’s portrayal of a very diverse array of people in this community. The book has a lot of characters, with complex interrelationships, and at times I found it difficult to keep track of everyone–and might have benefited from a little relationship diagram at the beginning, such as in Yaa Gyasi’s “Homegoing.” And in fact this was the one thing that disappointed me about the novel–many of the characters seemed very interesting, and I would have appreciated getting to know them better, but there’s simply not space given all of the players. I think it’s significant that Orange wrote the book the way he did–to show the non-monolithic nature of the community–but I still wanted to spend more time with some characters. (Particularly Danny and Jacquie.) I also appreciated the way Orange incorporated the AIM occupation of Alcatraz–probably the one thing I and many other white Americans know about Native people relating to the Bay Area–into the plot, making it an important origin point, but not the focus of the whole thing. The ending is apocalyptic and sad, but had just enough redemption in it to make me feel OK (thanks Elise for talking me into this perspective!).

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars