Despite my Métis and Cree ancestry, I grew up with an English name and white face. I didn't experience prejudice, except from those who knew about Native blood. That's another story. Therefore, I began this book with high hopes, wanting Tommy Orange to express a facet of my experience almost as much as that of his Native characters in Oakland, California. What a disappointment. Orange begins his novel with a rant against white people that I found as unpleasant and unbalanced as the self-congratulatory lies told by many white-people historical accounts until recently. Hatred's hatred, and I cringe.

Having set the stage, Orange launches into a series of characters that often didn't work as such. Their stories read as much as social work reports as fiction. The positive: Orange draws some of these characters very well, and often his prose is gorgeous. Yet just as I was getting into someone's story, off Orange went into another character. There are twelve in total, like the disciples. And they all converge at a powwow in Oakland, like the pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales. Orange is self-consciously literary, and while this trait works to elevate and dignify the lives of his characters, it does not necessarily produce effective fiction, regardless of the writer's heritage.

And the novel's development is interrupted by another rant. Maybe for some all-white readers this works, allowing them to experience ethnic hatred themselves. (I hate the term race, because for me there's only one race, the human one.) For me, it's weird and shameful, another reminder that our faults unite us as humans, despite our skin colours and heritages. In any case, rants don't make high art fiction, IMO, and Tommy Orange has the capabilities to produce that. Maybe the next novel?

Mersenne5's rating:
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