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Review: There, There

Despite an imperfect ending, There, There is a powerful depiction of the modern Native American experience that's worthy of the high praise it's received.

Tommy Orange's debut novel, There, There, seemed to make pretty much every best-of list in 2018, and deservedly so.

The book paints a kaleidoscopic portrait of modern Native American life that is unlike anything I've read before about the Native American experience (although perhaps the problem lies in the fact that I've read so little). There is a freshness and rawness here that reminds me very much of the experience I had reading Junot Diaz for the first time. And despite dealing with well-trod themes like alcoholism, abuse, and questions of identity, Orange avoids stereotype by handling these issues with an infusion of specificity and modernity.

Structurally, There, There employs the popular setup of interweaving multiple characters and storylines before the threads converge at the end of the book at a Native American powwow taking place in Oakland, California. Yet, for me the journey was much more rewarding than the destination and the book's climax felt overly dramatic and too reliant on coincidence--the flaw of an otherwise impeccably crafted book.

Knowing that There, There was Tommy Orange's debut novel--and that he'd attended an MFA program--I couldn't help but wonder if he'd originally written the threads that make up the book as short stories, and only later created the ending in order to fit them together in the more marketable form of a novel. For me personally, I would have appreciated these character arcs just as much (if not more) in short story format. Still, I guess one can't argue with success; I'm sure sales numbers of this novel are quite impressive indeed.


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