There’s some pretty strong connections between this novel and some of the novels of Louise Erdrich, especially Plague of Doves, LaRose, and The Round House. For one, this novel references Louise Erdrich, and for two, the factured structure and the myriad narrative voices relating the subject matter. If I had to make a guess, this will be the best book from 2018 I read in 2018…if not the very best, one of the very best. You can tell from the get-go that this is a strong narrative voice, a strong writer, and a novel that has the depth and understanding to pull off a meaningful text.
It also feel very much like a first novel, but in the best way possible. A novel that feel likes it might not ever get another chance to say the things it has to say, so it puts it all there. I have to imagine Tommy Orange will be writing more novels and that I will be reading them.
This novel deals with multiple people involved in, surrounding, and intermixed with a singular event that takes place in Oakland on a given night, but also with the stories and histories that brought everyone to that moment. It’s not about the event itself, so much as how the event is a locus from which these other stories are being told. And so the resulting novel is a blend of stories.
The title comes from the out of context Gertrude Stein quote about Oakland and how there’s no “there there” but the novel speaking kind of about Oakland but more so about Natives describes how she is not referring to something lacking, but something lost from where there was a there there.