In the beginning, there was nothing. Just the water.”
Short Verdict: It is difficult to adequately convey the delight I felt in reading this book. Thomas King’s storytelling voice is moving, delightful, funny and reflective. Green Grass, Running Water is more of a narrative experience than a read.
Green Grass, Running Water was my May Shelf Life title, and I’m only getting around to having time to sit and write this review now.
The narrative itself is not straightforward. If you’re familiar with a general range of “postcolonial” texts or have read other Indigenous fiction titles, then chances are you’ll be able to follow Thomas King’s frolicking story. If, however, you are not used to disorientation, inaccessibility, and repetitive shifts, then it might be hard to get a sense of what is happening.
Weaving multiple storylines happening in one time-space, representations of oral narratives are inserted between these chapters, as origin stories are told and retold, each time slightly different, propelling narrative forward strangely, through return.
And of course, returning is exactly each character’s choice over and over again, as the story brings everyone involved, narrators, characters, and mythic deities/figures to the Sun Dance.
“Green Grass, Running Water” is a reference to the lapses in treaty rights established between Indigenous nations and the government of Canada. The tone of this title / theme is simultaneously loving and sardonic. King engages humorously but intelligently with Western Judeo-Christian images, history, and a lot of word play to build a firm critique of the ongoing violence against and erasure of Indigenous peoples.
“‘I know that song,’ says Coyote. ‘Hosanna da, in-the highest, hosanna da forever…”
‘You got the wrong song,’ I says. ‘This song goes, ‘Hosanna da, our home on Natives’ land.”
‘Oh,’ says Coyote. ‘That song.'”
King is a wiry storyteller, mixing and clashing worldviews, traditions, positions and power against each other throughout the narrative, sparking interesting characters and vignettes, orbiting in a narrative order not immediately discernable, becoming recognizable only as the narrative loops and swings back into itself again and again.
My favourite experience of reading this book, however, is that I forgot I finished it.
I remember reopening it and scanning for where I imagined I left off, and then realizing after a while that I’d, in fact, read it all.
Because the book begins and ends with its intercepting narrative chapters, the story is made to continue, even after we’ve reached the end of the page count. It is difficult to imagine different kinds of closure, after all, colonialism tried first to break our imaginations. Why does a narrative stop getting told on the page? What does it mean that the story continues, and we, having followed along, are now made to part ways? In other words, the narrative goes on, different iterations, a new speaker, different names for characters…“And here’s how it happened” again. But we’ve heard the story already, and perhaps the best thing is, now we can tell them too.
Having heard Thomas King story tell in real life, I was not at all disappointed in reading Thomas King. He is every bit as magnetic on the page as on the stage, telling story after story after story that really all seem to be one story spilling over into stories.