100 Books That Defined the Decade
For good, for bad, for ugly.
Tommy Orange, There There (2018)
We are the memories we don’t remember, which live in us, which we feel, which make us sing and dance and pray the way we do, feelings from memories that flare and bloom unexpectedly in our lives like blood through a blanket from a wound made by a bullet fired by a man shooting us in the back for our hair, for our heads, for a bounty, or just to get rid of us.
Essential stats: Tommy Orange’s debut won just about all the most coveted first novel prizes in 2018: the National Book Critic Circle’s John Leonard Prize, the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award, the Center for Fiction’s first novel prize, the . It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; the committee called it “a compassionate debut that, through 12 Native American narrators making their way to a California powwow, offers a chorus of voices struggling with questions of identity and authenticity.” It was a surprise bestseller, and according to our sources, it was one of the best debut novels of the decade.
Why is it defining? At last, publishing—or if not publishing in general, then at least the bestseller list—is getting a little less monolithic. Once, a novel like this, no matter how good, would have been relegated to a special interest pile. But now, American readers are catching on to the notion that these stories are crucial for all of us. And it seems that readers are finally looking beyond Sherman Alexie as the single mainstream Indigenous literary hero—when it’s more than past time.
What did the critics say? More or less, they were all variations on “Yes, Tommy Orange’s New Novel Really Is That Good.”
Here’s Orange on Seth Meyers:
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