The debut novel from the bestselling author of Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight and Leaving Before the Rains Come.
Two Native American cousins, Rick Overlooking Horse and You Choose Watson, are pitted against each other as their tribe is torn apart by infighting. Rick chooses the path of peace and stays; You Choose, violent and unpredictable, strikes out on his own. When he returns, after three decades behind bars, he disrupts the fragile peace and threatens the lives of the entire reservation.
A complex tale that spans generations and geography, Quiet Until the Thaw conjures, with the implications of an oppressed history, how we are bound not just to immediate family but to all who have come before and will come after us, and, most of all, to the notion that everything was always, and is always, connected.Amazon
This is my Spoiler-Free book review for Quiet Until The Thaw by Alexandra Fuller
I intend to use the ***ASPECT method for my discussion and will not spoil the ending.
Ok so. I decided that I should read something written about Native Americans in the week before Thanksgiving. Yes, I know Thanksgiving is problematic as hell now, but I also know that I’ll be seeing family and doing the whole “I am thankful for… “ thing in the coming week. (Which, is a nice tradition even if it has gross beginnings.)
I also know that my life has been so much better since I started purposefully making sure there were more than just white ladies authors on my bookshelf. My reading list is still not as diverse as I would like… but I am working on it.
Anyway, because I decided this rather late in the game, I didn’t have time to go buy a new book and I didn’t want to cheat and review a book I had already read like say, There, There by Tommy Orange. Thankfully, I remembered that at a recent trip to the dollar store I had grabbed this book.
Why This Book?
I recognized the name of the author and her other book Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight has been on my book club’s Possible Picks List for at least two years. I don’t know a whole heck of a lot about the Lakota people… so I figured now was a good time to learn.
Hey, look… it’s perfect timing!
This is is a novel about Lakota people written by… a white lady? Record scratch. I checked her Amazon page and it says she was “ born in England and grew up in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia.”
Cool. But she is still not a Native American.
And… ok, I don’t think you have to be Thing X to write about being Thing X. However, I do think that we need to make sure that there are plenty of Thing X people writing about Thing X and that Thing X should be treated very carefully if you are Not Thing X and you have decided to write about it.
I’m a middle-class white lady who was born in 1980. I would like to think that I could still write a decent book about a rich not-white dude born in the 1940s if I were so inclined… but I would tread carefully and not take up space that would be better used by others. Right? The whole thing of writing outside your race/orientation/status/place/lane… It is sticky and well, not why you are here.
So anyway. I had paid a dollar for this book, so I wanted to read it.
But first I looked Fuller up and I saw that even the NY Times wasn’t sure if it was okay for her to be writing about these people… so I felt validated in my discomfort and glad I had only spent a dollar… Time to read!
Atmosphere / Writing Style
The novel takes place on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota. It is a slow and quiet book full of sparse imagery and careful stories told as if in oral tradition. I saw a lot of “Indian cliches” but I also saw a compelling story and some very beautiful life lessons. It is written in the style of vignettes and there are several words that aren’t translated. This adds to the tone of the book being about Native people but… but definitely written for non-Native people. I doubt Native Americans need the random history lessons about how they have been systematically oppressed and narrowly escaped genocide.
Like I said, there were some cliche characters. I am not sure how cliche vs real… I know the author spent time on a reservation, but a modern one and I have no idea how true to life these characters were.
I’m not sure if it is due to her style of writing or the brevity of her writing, but I felt like I only got to see the surface of the characters. This is due mainly to the vignette style, but it was disappointing. I wish we could have stuck with fewer characters to really get a deep dive into a character study.
And yes, the two warring brothers are obvious symbols and stand-ins for the Lakota people as a whole but the idea of distilling an entire community down to two polar opposites and then placing them in the world of trauma so that we can nod sagely and point to them as the embodiment of the community they represent… doesn’t sit super well with me.
There is very little plot. This is a brunch of character studies that never goes very far past the cliches with some history lessons and a few “Native person sitting at the fireside telling old-time wisdom stories” thrown in for good measure.
Eh. I feel like I learned a little bit but that was more due to the history lessons rather than the characters. It was moving and sad, but since I didn’t really feel connected to any of the characters, I wasn’t overly moved or overly sad. And I should have been. These people have gotten a shit deal by the US government for generations. Their stories are sad and should be treated as such. I expected to feel angry and upset. Instead, I felt conflicted about the author and wished I had read a different book.
Would I recommend it?
Nope. I need to write an actual review at some point, but I highly recommend There, There instead. I also found this list of Native American authors and I plan on adding several of them to my TBR stack.
Also, if you want a good book to read during Thanksgiving time, I can’t say enough good things about Nomadland. I won’t review it here on my blog because I did a whole podcast episode about it, but suffice it to say, it was an amazingly profound and eye-opening book that made me very grateful for what I have.
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?
One thought on “Book Review: Quiet Until The Thaw”