Category Archives: There There

There There: Read from September 11 to September 27, 2019

I had never considered this subject matter before. I had never seriously thought about what had happened to the Native Americans in this country other than once and while hearing about reservation casinos or visiting pueblos in New Mexico. And when I was aware of Native Americans it was always in the traditional sense with people wearing full regalia either on TV or during cultural awareness events on campuses.

This book, however, forced me to see Native Americans, and not as some people distinct from Americans, but as just simply Americans who have to deal with and struggle with all the problems of being American but who are also trying to figure how what it means to be Native American in this America. It’s an odd place to be in because just like the title suggests that there is and yet isn’t a there there, Native Americans are there (here) and yet they aren’t, they are Americans but they are also something else, something even more American perhaps.

One of the saddest parts of this book is how so many characters struggle with some sort of addition, be it drugs or the internet, and of course this is not unique to Native Americans, but it seems to be such a part of that story of being Native American. The stereotype is that of someone drunk on the reservation and in a way this book both supports this stereotype as well as examine the why behind it. To say that only Native Americans struggle with addiction is untrue – all people struggle with it – but in this book we learn the why behind it, and a lot of it has to do with just trying to escape while being surrounded by a culture that ignores Native Americans (or thinks they are Mexican). It’s an odd thing to try to escape from people who don’t want to see you, and there’s a sense of here of wanting to be seen while also just wanting to be treated no different.

And that’s the thing here in that the characters are not any different than anyone else except for the fact that they are Native American. They love each other, they are violent towards each other, they are artists, they are abusers, and they are every kind of person there is, it’s just that they are also Native American on top of all that and they live in the cities with everyone else and so it’s hard to stand out in any way since everyone is forced to live cheek to jowl with everyone else and so it can be nearly impossible to see Native Americans unless they are wearing their regalia like during the pow wow at the end of the novel.

And then once the Native Americans are seen by the end of the novel, that’s when the violence happens. And it’s a shame that American art now must deal with the reality of American violence in the form of mass shootings. These shootings are such a part of the fabric of our culture that there is no escaping it, though what Orange does in this novel is explain how these shootings are not new, and he’s not talking about how they started in the 90’s (Columbine) or the 60’s (Kent State), but how they go all the way back to Sand Creek and Plymouth Plantation. Mass shootings are as old as America, older in fact since they go back to when we were still a British colony.

And that’s the thread of the story of this novel in that violence, specifically gun violence is what Native Americans have been running from ever since Europeans first came here and that they are still running and so it’s easier to remain silent, head down, and blend in, but that this comes at such a cost in that culture and tradition is lost that Native Americans have to hang onto who they are as a myriad people yet when they do they have to go back to running from bullets.

page 250 of 294 of There There

Calvin’s chapter here is basically the breakfast scene from Reservoir Dogs – even some of the dialogue is the same about the waitress and the tip. Structurally, however, this scene in the book is unnecessary, it could have taken place on the BART or whatever. The reason why the scene in Reservoir Dogs is so memorable is because the dialogue is sharp but more importantly it sets up the characters. It’s not needed here

page 246 of 294 of There There

After Edwin tells his story about Phil’s apartment getting taken over by white hipsters, we learn that the prize money is all in Visa gift cards because a check won’t work since so many people don’t have bank accounts and don’t want to lose 3% to check cashing stores. A lot of people who are outside the system but still have to negotiate the landscape anyway.

page 240 of 294 of There There

“He’s still letting the content direct the vision” is also how a good story is written when you don’t really know what you;re going to write next, you just put one word in front of the next and see what happens – so in that way life is like storytelling because we don’t know what we’re going to do next either.

page 238 of 294 of There There

Edwin and Blue, huh? She says it’s just as friends, but it seems like an odd pairing, though it has been a year since Blue left her husband and I guess I could see what she’d see in someone who probably isn’t going to treat her badly, it’s just he seems like the sort of guy who’d go the opposite direction, even if she’s clear they’re not dating.

page 233 of 294 of There There

“Indians dressed up as Indians” is interesting because up till now everyone has almost been invisible, visible as reflections at best, and so to be Indian they have to dress as Indians, but nobody is any more or any less Indian, it’s all how they feel. “He tells himself not to think” because he just needs to be “there there”.

page 216 of 294 of There There

I wonder if the story of his dad is from the author’s father or from personal experience? Something about it feels a little more personal that other moments in the novel – maybe it’s because his father is 1000% Indian and proud of it and other than his bad knees seems to be otherwise free of the issues all the other characters in the book struggle with, like he’s the “perfect” Indian nobody else can live up to.

page 213 of 294 of There There

“Voice can take a long time to come all the way out, brother”. Good line, especially in relation to the traditional drumming. He’s comfortable with the beat (even uses the word “triumph” but to add his own voice to it, to personalize the drumming with himself, to be something more than a beat is harder to do, it’s harder to speak up and not be silent.

page 211 of 294 of There There

As a drummer I can relate to the need to always be finding a beat in everything, though it never occurred to me to also hear it in “gunshots and backfire, the howl of trains at night, the wind against your windows”. I wonder if what he’s saying here is that there is a rhythm that’s there for everyone to hear, not just a few people, but maybe we’ve forgotten how to listen?

page 202 of 294 of There There

The rich people paying to listen to women scream probably would have sounded like fiction before that Epstein guy was busted and now it seems like a substantial percentage of very wealthy people in the real world are more fucking depraved than we realized. And in this example it’s not a race thing, it’s a class thing, and everyone, white, black, Indian, Latino are in it together against the rich.

page 199 of 294 of There There

It wouldn’t drama if none of the characters had flaws, but it feels like everyone is either an abuser or damaged with only maybe Dene being the least scared. And it can be a lot to take, reading about pretty much every female character abused and or raped, everyone on some sort of drug or escapist fantasy, and nobody really happy. Is this any more authentic than what the characters are fighting against?

page 195 of 294 of There There

William Gibson should read this novel because so much of his sci-fi is actually a reality in this novel. It’s odd to say a work of realistic literary fiction has sci-fi elements, but there is a quality to it that pays homage (perhaps intentionally or unintentionally) to cyberpunk culture: drones, 3D printed guns, VR, MMO’s, it’s all the there that isn’t there, the spaces Gibson wrote about that all came true.

page 192 of 294 of There There

Much better image of the broken votive candle in the kitchen as opposed to the broken dish earlier in the story (p 35). I don’t know why that one detail sticks out to me – maybe because this is otherwise a fantastic novel but because it’s a first time author there are a few clunky images floating around. Doesn’t detract from the novel at all, I just want to see Orange keep improving as a writer.

page 182 of 294 of There There

“We gotta pay for what we done to our own people”

“We got this old thing that hurts real fucking bad, makes you mean”

“It’s some old dark leftover thing that stayed with our family”

Blood, stories, the past, superstition, curses, violence, a lot of people carrying around a lot of baggage, just like the father whose clothes are stuffed into a bag and told to get out.

page 179 of 294 of There There

Are Manny and Daniel who Sixto got killed while drink driving? (No, it’s his mom and brother p.181 – why was this unclear)

Is it strange to hear a mourning dove in the city? I’ve never heard them anywhere except in the country, but maybe they can be in the city too? Or is this Orange playing with what we think of where Indians live (rural as opposed to the more urban reality of Oakland)?

page 178 of 294 of There There

Not to condone stealing cars, but it is a nice image of them in the stolen Lexus living someone else’s life in someone else’s car, smoking someone else’s smokes – like being part of the larger society for awhile, blending in as if they were white so being invisible in a different way, in a way nobody thinks about, not in the way that Indians are invisible in the city because nobody says anything.

page 174 of 294 of There There

Another image of bullets from afar, this time after he stole the plants and the owner’s came and shit up his house. It’s interesting to think that as I look at it it just seems like it’s vengeance for a stupid decision, but from another point of view it’s a curse, too – it all depends on who is telling the story, I suppose.

page 171 of 294 of There There

“A real curse is like a bullet fired from far off” which is to say that curses are, in a way, a real thing, that it’s not just superstition, it’s just that in reality a curse is often far worse than some magic which isn’t. Because the curse is real in the violence the Indians have endured, it’s just they have incorporated this into their stories unlike the oppressors.

page 170 of 294 of There There

Sad that she can see the pain of the dog as it flinches when its name is called after having “spread the weight of its own abuse” on her with its barking. And her largeness makes sense in that by getting big it somehow makes her feel more real perhaps, as if she has to be contended with by everyone else – though she sure does seem to feel empty inside – like eating McDonalds.

page 163 of 294 of There There

Oh, OK, so Lucas, who we know is Dene’s (dead) Uncle, also had a relationship with Opal when they were both in foster care. Somehow this connects nicely to the spider and how they never killed a spider because “spiders carry miles of story in their bodies” “miles of home and trap”. The use of trap in interesting since it means stuck somewhere they don’t want to be.