Green Grass, Running Water

by Thomas King
ISBN: 0006485138

King is gutsy: the man has talked at length about (and committed to print) a manifesto of sorts on the power of stories and he’s published fiction. Turns out, his stories are really good, and The Truth About Stories is one of the best books I’ve ever read. He knows what he’s doing.

In this novel he has the Lone Ranger, Hawkeye, Robinson Crusoe, and Ishmael (with some, possibly, er, help from Coyote) on mission to fix up the world. He’s got characters searching to find themselves and each other. There are reservations, borders, traditions, and a prosthetic nose to “help” a man look supposedly more like who he already is. There are powerful women. Mythology is explored. Also, that guy who walks on water shows up.

So do college professors, television salesmen, a lawyer, a wifebeater, a restaurant owner, and a doctor. The police. The missing Indians even show up. Repeatedly. Questions get raised: Who is a sellout, what does that even mean? Where is home, can you go back, and what does it mean if you do? If you don’t? It is a magically twisted world in Green Grass. Water may be everywhere, but the humor is dry. And everyone is trying, over and over again, to get it right this time. Well, nearly everyone.

If you like reading the kind of stories that at first seem effortless, but really seep into your brain and make you think, make you grimace in recognition, and make you want more, you should read this book. Highly recommended.

12 thoughts on “Green Grass, Running Water

  1. Halfway through “Green Grass..” , I stopped and read it from the start again. I’ve read everyone from Alexie to Welch and this is simply and undoubtedly the very best novel (or fiction) I’ve read about native americans yet. Actually, I think it’s the best novel I’ve read in a decade at least. with Terrific characters and dialogue, a wicked sense of humor and a poignant sense of the human condition, this book is both mischievous and brilliant, capturing the trickster spirit, and the humor of modern day native american people.

  2. Um, actually nick, it’s about about natives in Canada. Thomas King is an aboriginal Canadian writer.

  3. native americans are the same thing as canadian natives… canada is part of north america..

  4. Do you really think that Canadian and American natives are the same? This is like saying that Canadians and Americans are the same, I really don’t think so! I think that there are distinction between them… if you do a little research you will also find that the symbolics can even be different.

  5. Native Americans are certainly not the same thing as “Native Canadians.” In Canada, if you use that term or “Native American” to refer to First Nations people, you’ll be looked at like you have three heads. Those labels are just not part of the language. Anyway, the characters in this book are Blackfoot, and the book was marvelous. Great review!

  6. Native American refers to the Americas not the united states, and yes every tribe is different and Native American is a very broad term but it does include Native Canadians. The term might not be in common use in Canada but that’s what it means.

  7. Native American refers to the Americas not the United States. Yes all Native American tribes are different, the term Native American is very broad and unspecific but it definentely includes Native Canadians. The term may not be in common use in Canada but that’s what it means.

  8. You’re right, Trevor. Native American refers to the Americas. On another note, to repeat Sasha’s question, what DO we think of all the water? How does it relate to the interesting ways in which King with working with creation myth?

  9. Actually, saying either would be addressing the classification from a Western mindset. “Native Americans” wouldn’t necessarily identify with Canadian or American identity, Thomas King actually addresses this in another story of his in the issue of border crossing where a Blackfoot woman refuses to classify herself as Canadian nor American, only Blackfoot….just to give some perspective.

  10. The significance of the water is complex and works at a number of different levels, but here are just a few:
    The title Green Grass, Running Water refers to a promise made by Andrew Jackson to the Choctaw and Cherokee people that the lands offered to them west of the Mississippi would remain in their possession “as long as Grass grows or Water runs.” In the subplot with Eli and Cliff Sifton, Sifton is trying to build a dam on Reserve land, therby stopping the water from flowing. Also, a number of Indigenous creation stories begin with water, thus each section of the novel begins with King’s own take on these various creation stories. Additionally, the water is part of an elaborate pun: notice that the Nissan, Pinto, and Karmann-Ghia sound similar to Nina, Pinta, and Santa-Maria.

    As for the Native American/First Nations dilemma, King is a dual-citizen! He lives in Canada and primarily writes about the Blackfeet people of Canada, but King himself grew up in California and is affiliated with the Cherokee Nation. The glyphs at the opening of each section are Cherokee. I would not get hung up on which is the proper nomenclature, because either would be correct in reference to King and his texts.

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