There, There by Tommy Orange

A lot of books win awards, and not all of them are ones I necessarily enjoy. So, I might make a note to myself to pick such-and-such a book up if I come across it, but I don’t go out of my way to get a copy. There, There by Tommy Orange is the opposite of this. There, There is a book I bought after hearing the author in an interview so poignant that I pulled my car over to write down what he said.

“It risks being erased if all you can refer to as self is historical. Then, you’re basically already gone, and that’s a really terrible feeling.” — Tommy Orange

This quote spoke to me, and I bought the book. Then, I kept putting off reading it. I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to the hype, that it would be too different or too literary, and I’d be disappointed.

I am here to tell you to read the book.

It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Part of that is because it is a book of empathy, a language I speak and live, and it’s a book of intimate connection, a language I crave and mourn.

Orange drops you onto the fulcrum points of a handful of people’s lives, where things teeter, and then those lives swing on that hinge, leading them to each other and an unfolding tragedy haloed by hope. I cared deeply and truly for everyone in this book; they became family.

The brilliance of the tension Orange employs must be noted. You are led quietly into hard moments, stakes built on life itself, not splashy action, but small steps that lead to big change.

“She bounced and her toes pointed in just the right way. Dancer’s feet. Dancer’s gravity.”

There’s an interlude to prepare you for what’s coming. A grace not granted to the characters themselves, and while I appreciated this pause and warning to take a deep breath for the running steps coming, it cranked the tension to almost unbearable levels. The end is dynamic and active, and left me weeping.

“Maybe we’ve all been speaking the broken tongue of angels and demons too long to know that that’s what we are, who we are, what we’re speaking. Maybe we don’t ever die but change…” 

The more I love a thing, the harder it is to articulate why. The more tongue-tied and inadequate anything I say becomes. There’s a scene in the book where a woman in recovery is fighting not to relapse by swimming in the hotel pool. She eases into the water and then stays under until it hurts. In a lot of ways, that was my experience while reading: a surrendering; an acknowledgement of the pain; and, then a release into the inevitability and necessity of change.


Thanks for reading!

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