Archive for the ‘oakland’ Tag

Here and There   Leave a comment


In the late 1930s Gertrude Stein wrote of Oakland, Calif., “… there, there is no there there.” It’s apt, then, that Tommy Orange has co-opted part of the quote as the title of his novel. Orange introduces readers to several Native Americans whose lives intersect in the city on the East Bay.

Never as glamourous, wealthy or viewed in as positive a light as San Francisco, Oakland is, nonetheless, the focal point for Orange with different perspectives provided by the 12 characters he introduces. Their stories, told in separate chapters, are shaped by the urban environment and the upcoming Big Oakland Pow Wow.

Violence, alcoholism, out-of-wedlock pregnancies, traditions, estranged families and more are contributing factors to the scenarios Orange creates. Most are heart-breaking, yet humor and joy are also evident.

Opal Viola Violet Bear is first introduced as an 11-year-old in 1970 when her mother brings her and her older sister, Jacqui, to Alcatraz as part of the all-tribe occupation. She re-enters the story through the eyes of her grandson, Orvil Red Feather. Except, technically, Opal is Orvil’s and his two younger brothers aunt. Although his name clearly identifies his heritage, he knows little about it. He discovers dance regalia in Opal’s closet. He learns what he can about Indian dance and culture online. The Pow Wow is his chance to be part of something he knows very little about.

Reasons for the others to attend the Pow Wow range from dark to hopeful, which makes the narrative so engaging.

There There
Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knoph, 2018
290 pages


Street Life   2 comments

While wondering at the necessity, I marvel at the kind of concentration and craftsmanship it takes to write a single sentence that makes sense and holds interest as it spans 12 pages rife with characters, each distinctly different, who share a common struggle against fate, karma, some elusive and nebulous hand manipulating a game board with varying designs and obstacles; yet this engaging contest in Michael Chabon’s most recent novel, Telegraph Avenue, is played with swagger and fear by men, women and teenage boys fighting to hold onto dreams while desperately needing to relinquish the realities of their colorful lives.

I lack the skill, and inclination, to take a 100+ word sentence any further. Chabon can, but that’s the least of his mastery. Set in Oakland, his story about two men who run a (old school vinyl) record store in danger of being razed to accommodate a mega urban renewal project is a tribute to friendship, music and, oddly, especially family.

The novel is drunk with sensory images. Consider: “At 9:45 a.m. the first batch of chicken parts sank, to the sound of applause, into the pig fat.” Or: “… the loose weather stripping that peeped like a gang banger’s drawers from the seams around the back door.”

The major flaw lies in the glut of characters; initially, it’s difficult keeping track of who’s who. Nonetheless, it’s clear everyone, from actors to midwives, is just trying to get by in life while a poor economy, outdated technology and children get in the way.

Telegraph Avenue
Four Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2012
465 pages