There There by Tommy Orange fulfilled the category “Book Told from Multiple Points of View” in the PopSugar 2019 Reading Challenge. The novel easily fit the category as it was told by over ten characters.
There There was an interesting read, in that it explored the lives of Native Americans who live near Oakland, California. When we think Natives, Indian, Native Americans, many of us assume a reservation or a casino. I’m from Connecticut and had no idea how many Native Americans lived in the area until the casino opened and the second one went up from another tribe. I felt naïve for not knowing anything about them.
Mr. Orange created an odd structure for the book. The story included interview-like passages and straight narrative. I loved the portrait of the various people and their struggles. Their daily lives illustrated their culture. Not everyone had a good life. Not everyone had healthy or happiness. Some were even criminals. But they had hope until the end.
***serious spoilers ahead***
I didn’t like the book. It seemed as if Mr. Orange forgot to include the ending. Never mind that so many characters were confusing and distracting. Never mind that stories were picked up, then cut off. Never mind that a little more structure would have made the novel so much better.
I wish the author had told the entire (or most) of the story from Deen Oxendene’s movie project. The book would’ve been amazing. The interview project having people talk on camera about their status, feelings about city life, and their everyday activities would’ve been a great novel. Mr. Orange could’ve told the same tale—just about—using the film project as a vehicle. Instead, we have a few interviews, camera sessions, and tons of characters than blur together after a while.
And the ending. ****super spoiler****
The ending made me want to throw the book across the room. The shooting situation was not resolved. I don’t know who lived or died, who struggled with the consequences, or if Jackie and her daughter ever connected. I was angry the author didn’t wrap up the story even a little more. Instead, he closed the novel in the hospital in a situation still full of tension. Then switch to one of the boys in the shooting.
Honestly, I didn’t remember the boy was in the final chapters. Tracking twelve characters isn’t easy and our last man (boy) didn’t ring any bells. I scoured back through the novel to find him. I admire how Mr. Orange made him a hero after the fact. But no one paid for the consequences of their actions except in death. If there was any further police or punishment, pain, shame, terror, regret, anger, etc., we, the readers, will never know. The tale is missing one last chapter to give us hope.
Those boys turned on their own people. I’m not sure if Mr. Orange’s message was of reality, education, or what. But to me, the story said the Native American issue is hopeless. The people will always turn on each other, abandon their children, and drink to excess. This review is overly harsh and I apologize. But the book hurt. I opted to read another book about Native Americans to offset this one.
The writing is great, the characters are great, but the story is harsh and too open-ended for me.
I give There There by Tommy Orange three stars.