At the end of the first section of Tommy Orange’s debut novel, There, There, we are introduced to a character who has decided he is tired of depression, tired of the blue light of the internet being his only friend. He is going to become a new person starting right now. The reader follows him onto the floor, feels his abs crunch as he does a sit-up. The first move to rehabilitation. He shits himself during the attempt and describes the experience as “something not unlike hope.”
This is one of the happier and lighter moments in Orange’s debut book. Orange’s novel about urban American Indians in Oakland, where Orange was born and raised, is full of pain. Telling the story of twelve connected members of the American Indian community, Orange weaves a tapestry of hopes, failures, love, dreams, and daily lives in order to bring vibrancy and immediacy to a neglected community. Oscillating between savvy street-smart characters with mystic wisdoms, computer nerds who find their native community over the internet, and older Indians, parents to the younger generation of the novel, Orange successfully renders all of them; bringing together a community from disparate voices that by the end of the novel feels like a genuine family that the reader has been given beautiful insight too.
If it is possible to single out one aspect of such a strong work, it would have to be Orange’s voice. He veers from an essayistic process of thought to narrative scenes with drugs and guns on the table, handling both with aplomb and technical skill. The narrative moves at a tremendous pace, never sacrificing beauty for speed or clarity. Orange is able to tell so much without it ever feeling like he has a hellbent, or certain, message. This is an intensely political book completely lacking polemic. If anything, the book extends political discourse to the reader by way of aesthetic vision, using its artistic platform not only for beauty but for social relevance.
If there is one flaw in the book it is with the ending. Orange speaks in such a singular language, and with such a perceptive eye, that any borrowed iconography, or narrative turn, feels especially out of place. The book is moving towards an event with all of its characters, and unfortunately, this event feels slightly out of place, and thematically dissonant; using familiar templates from other works really stands out when the rest of book is so unassailable in its authorship. This issue does not sink the book though. I would wholeheartedly recommend this to people interested in contemporary fiction, and potentially even to some people who are not. There, There signals the emergence of a new, and tremendous, American voice. Take notice, or wait until his next book is thrust at you, demanding to be read.
Sam Bickford is a second year MA English student at LSU and the Fiction Editor of New Delta Review.
There, There is available from Knopf (June 2018).