Green Grass, Running Water is one of those books that I didn’t initially like but grew to like the more I read it. It’s been on my TBR list for a long time and I’m glad I gave it a second chance. It’s one of those books you have to stick with to really get the essence of the story.
“There are no truths. Only stories.” -Thomas King, Green Grass, Running Water
Author: Thomas King
Published: August 16, 1999
My Rating on Goodreads: 3 out of 5 stars
My first impression of Green Grass, Running Water was that it started off slow. I found the dialogue and story a bit dry but as I got farther into the novel I began to appreciate Thomas King’s unique narrative style.
The book is made up of very short chapters and segments, making it very easy to put down and pick up again where you left off. The story moves between four main characters: Lionel, Alberta, Charlie, and Eli, along with four elderly Native Americans that appear in short, funny interludes.
The story takes place in the fictional Canadian town of Blossom. Alberta is a university professor and wants to have a child but she isn’t interested in committing to either Charlie or Lionel, two men who are both interested in her. Meanwhile, Eli, also a university professor, is dealing with developers who want to build a dam on Native land. Lionel is a forty-year-old who sells televisions, and feels inadequate to others who have left the reserve and gotten university degrees. Charlie is a lawyer who works for a company, Duplessis, which is against Eli’s case. Green Grass, Running Water is a story about four Native people who are struggling with their identities, swaying between Native American tradition and the modern world.
There are a few things I loved about this book. The first was the dry humour. Coyote was a secondary character that interacted with the four old Native characters, who told the story from an omnipotent point of view. Coyote’s lines always made me smile and Babo, a funny cleaning woman and other secondary character, had me laughing. Initially, I found this narrative style jarring and distracting but it was a nice change from what I usually read.
At the same time though, Green Grass, Running Water was touching and truthful. It showed the unfair stereotypes people have about Native people and some of the racism/discrimination they face. The book touches on the relationships between Native Americans and the government, Native Americans and the police system, and Native Americans and corporations. It also touches on Native American traditions such as the Sun Dance, which is an event celebrated by many tribes.
One thing that intrigued me about the book was the title and I found out it’s in reference to the American government saying that the Native people have ownership of their land “as long as the grass is green and the water runs.” This phrase is mentioned a few times throughout the book and I wondered about its meaning.
Green Grass, Running Water is an entertaining and enlightening read. If you’re looking for a unique narrative style, and want to learn more about Native cultures and issues then this is a great place to start.