Katje van Loon's Reviews > Medicine River

Medicine River by Thomas King
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bookshelves: fnat

It seems a lot of people either love or hate this book. I'm somewhere in the middle and I think it's a matter of expectations.

I've read Green Grass Running Water by King and I adored it. It was absolutely fantastic, in my view. I've also seen King speak (and met him) and he's bright, funny, and incredibly engaging. So I was expecting the same sort of great things I'd experienced from him before when I picked up Medicine River.

The thing is, this book doesn't follow Western expectations of plot or characterization or dialogue or...anything we tend to really expect in what we call "literature". Green Grass, Running Water didn't either, except in one respect: plot. It built up to a satisfying conclusion and denouement, even if it did get there in an unorthodox way. There was still a feeling of building action, of something happening.

That doesn't happen in Medicine River. It's more a snapshot of life than what we expect from a plot in a book. Which isn't a bad thing! It's just different, and it defies expectations. Likely this is why it took me so long to really get into the book -- but by the end, I was enjoying it.

I'm not a fan of privileging the same sort of storytelling over and over again because it's a) what we're used to and b) what white men do and therefore the dominant cultural narrative. I think it's important to look at different ways of telling stories or showing characters and not immediately write them off as "bad", just because they come from a different point of view (Indigenous, in this case) and we don't immediately understand them.

So, bottom line: if you're used to Western (white dude!) literature as the dominant narrative, then you need to erase your expectations when picking up this book. It does not follow the dominant cultural narrative we have around literature: it deliberately bites its thumb at those expectations. It's different, and that's not always bad.

I'm not sure I'd read it again, but I'm not going to write it off as a bad book. It's a book I didn't enjoy as much as I thought I would -- because it didn't meet my expectations. In the future, I just need to adjust those expectations.
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Reading Progress

October 1, 2013 – Started Reading
October 1, 2013 – Shelved
January 10, 2014 –
page 77
30.92%
January 22, 2014 –
page 102
40.96%
May 3, 2014 –
page 135
54.22%
May 7, 2014 –
page 150
60.24%
May 9, 2014 – Finished Reading
August 2, 2014 – Shelved as: fnat

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