Monday, September 24, 2012

A More Diverse Universe: Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King — 469 pgs

In this satirical yet often humorous novel, Thomas KIng blurs the line between fantasy and reality to tell a tale of a culture that is vastly underrepresented and often tragically marginalized. When three very aged Native Americans get loose from the institution that houses them, Dr. Hovaugh is more than alarmed. It seems that every time these three go missing along with their favorite trickster, Coyote, bad things happen. But this tale isn’t solely mystical and surreal, for King also follows the lives of a handful of Native Americans and their daily struggle with society, law enforcement, and themselves. Alberta wants a baby, but her choices of a mate are limited to Charlie, a smug Native American who has left the reserve to become a sleazy lawyer, and Lionel, a man with unrealized potential who has stayed on the reserve all his life but has never amounted to anything. Latisha, a single mother, is also living on the reservation, caring for her three children and trying to forget the caucasian husband who left them for his own particular whims. And Eli is an elder Native American who is fighting the system each day just by staying in his own log home and threatening the way of progress. As they all move closer and closer to the annual Sun Dance Festival, a tribal time of togetherness and community, the three escapees and Coyote are headed that way as well, making this year’s Festival a time of limitless possibilities fraught with palpable tension. Blending Native American myth with sardonic Christian flavor, Green Grass, Running Water takes the reader on a journey of the fantastical and the commonplace, and seeks to give root to Native American culture with both gravity and levity.

When I read about Aarti’s premise for A More Diverse Universe, I thought it sounded like an excellent and intriguing idea. My thinking was that if enough blogs chose to participate, this event could take on a life of its own and have readers searching out fantasy and science fiction that strays out of the color bounds and gives voice to those who are seldom heard. I, of course, didn’t even know where to begin in searching for a book, but Aarti was very gracious in finding a few that she thought I would enjoy. I chose this one because it was a favorite of hers and because I shamefully admit that I know very little about Native Americans. I think it was a great choice for me.

Part of this book was entirely fantasy, with the three ageless Native American protagonists and their wild coyote tagalong miraculously escaping the confined ward that they are in and heading off into the sunset. But along the way, they must reweave the world and try to tell the story of creation to each other as they travel. Most of these sections were hilarious, with a clever blend of Native American storytelling that seemed to always get polluted with Christian ideology. It became a mix of both the beautiful and the absurd as each member of the band tried to tell the story his own way, albeit unsuccessfully. Each story was rooted in the fundamental truths of how the Native American culture has been basically whitewashed by those Americans who seek to stamp out diversity and difference of any kind.

Another thing that came up time and time again was the imagery of water. Every story that the Native Americans told had water symbolically placed within the tale. I believe that this water symbolizes the Native Americans as a whole. As a people, they’re always flowing around those who seek to stop them, be it in their rituals, laws and practices, or in a society that doesn’t want to know about the lengths we have gone to to eradicate them. In one crucial piece of the story, the water was literally being held back by a dam that threatened to change the way of life for the Native Americans of this story. That is indeed some of the strongest symbolism that I have ever encountered.

The personal aspects of this tale were also rather engaging. Both on and off the reservation, the Native Americans strove to be individuals, as well as to either distance themselves or come closer to their original heritage. I particularly liked Alberta’s story. She seemed very headstrong in her refusal to commit to one man, while still remaining desperate to have a child. In the end, I was pleased by the choice she made. I was also rather fond of Lionel, a man who was forced to take a strong stance by the end of the novel that he was unable to undertake in the first few sections. But then again, there were those helpful Native Americans and their coyote around to assist him in making changes.

Like the water that was so copiously running through this tale, this was a fluid story that could change on a dime. It was engaging and left me more compassionate and genuinely interested in the Native American heritage and their modern plights. It was impossible not to feel a range of emotion when reading this book, from giddy happiness to reactionary anger. I was glad that I was exposed to this book and hope that more readers pick it up. The story is one that will stay with me and have me asking questions and seeking answers well into the future. A great and highly entertaining read. Recommended.

19 comments:

Beth F said...

I'm so glad you decided to participate in this event. It was bad timing for me, but if there is another one, I'll participate next time.

Anyway, this sound like a good one and I like the imagery of water "running" throughout the story and I've always been fascinated by creation tales.

Thanks for bringing this book to my attention.

Aarti said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this book! It really was a wonderful read, and I found myself laughing and smiling throughout. I love the way you brought up the point about Christian ideology polluting the Native American mythology. I found that a really striking part of the book, too.
Thanks for participating!!

Athira said...

So glad that you enjoyed this! I am excited by the ton of choices that I will get during this tour. Great review!

Literary Feline said...

I would like to have participated in this event, but, like Beth, I couldn't fit it in. Nor could I find the book I considered trying to squeeze in to read for it. :-(

I look forward to reading everyone's reviews though--I'm sure I'll discover many books I am not familiar with--like this one. My dad had always been interesed in Native American tales and some of that rubbed off on me. I think I'd really like this book. I love your description of the water and what it symbolizes.

Such an insightful and great review!

Suko said...

This sounds excellent and your review is wonderful. The symbolism of water to Native Americans was previously unknown to me--I obviously would learn a great deal from Green Grass, Running Water.

Brooke said...

What a great event and sounds like an awesome book! I've loved nearly every book I've ever read involving Native American culture so this one is being added to the TBR list immediately!

Liviania said...

I think I'll put this book on one of my wishlists. I'm not familiar with much Native American myth either, so I'm very intrigued by that aspect.

Fence said...

I love that style of art on the cover. And the book sounds like a great read too

Vasilly said...

Now I really want to read this! It sounds crazy and really good. I'm glad that you enjoyed it.

jennysbooks said...

*wails* I have been wanting to read this for so long! But I can't get it except from the New York Public Library, and I'm afraid that they will have bedbugs and I will get bedbugs and have to get rid of all my books because bedbugs can live in books FOREVER.

(I'm a little paranoid about bedbugs.)

One of these days PaperbackSwap is going to come through for me on this book.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I love the idea of this challenge or celebration, but there was no way I could fit it in. This book sounds wonderful. I bet there will be so many unique books highlighted with this event.

Wall-to-wall books said...

Oh this book sounds very good! I am not a huge fan of Fantasy but the fantasy parts of this book sounds very fun and interesting! Thanks for the great review Heather!

Les said...

It's been many years since I've thought of Thomas King. I read another book by him (Medicine River) while taking a Great Plains Lit class at UNL. I'll have to see if my library has a copy of this one.

Jennifer @ Mrs Q Book Addict said...

I loved this book. I thought it was really well written, and the imagery was very well incorporated. Great review!

bkclubcare said...

Truly a FUN wonderful insightful wild lovely book!

Lisa said...

I love the idea of reading books by diverse authors but I'm just not a fantasy/sci-fi girl. This one seems as rooted in folk tale as anything, though and that I could have done. Dang, wish I would have thought of it. And you found such a great book!

Unknown said...

Sounds like a really interesting read - the juxtaposition of the christian ideology with the native mythology is quite intriguing. I will have to look for it - thanks!

Carrie K said...

Native mythology, Christian ideology and White Mans Classic Lit. It was a fun mash up. Interesting that they had to fix it again, seems as if the world never stays right.

Buried In Print said...

I loved reading your response to this one, especially realizing that it wasn't a pick you'd come to naturally, but through Aarti's direct recommendation; obviously she made a good choice for you! It's one of my favourite books too, the kind of favourite that, whenever you see a copy of it at a booksale, you feel the overwhelming need to snap it up, because you just KNOW that you are going to want to pass it to somebody! It's soooo good, and you've said all the reasons why!

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