The Rez. An American Love Story
The Rez: An American Love Story catalogues the interwoven lives of young people and their experiences in the Tulalip Reservation in northwest Washington during the 1960s and 70s. The first in a trilogy, The Rez depicts tribal life in a nuanced way, showing the complexity of cross-cultural relations during a time of drastic change.
To say that The Rez is a coming-of-age story is an understatement. Brothers Johnny and Caj Esque, Nikki-D and other young people navigate adolescence against the backdrop of the struggle for civil rights, the assassination of JFK, and the intensifying war in Vietnam. Madison’s prose about the hardness of life on tribal land is straightforward, unflinching. He makes no attempts to romanticize reservation life. Racism and classism converge as indigenous people in poverty endure blatant prejudice and discrimination.
Haunted by their own traumas, the adults in The Rez are dysfunctional and unable to guide their children through the tumult. At times, the adult characters may seem like caricatures, reinforcing racial stereotypes, for example, the Chinese tiger mom who is married to the overworked, corporate-ladder-climbing white man who has no time for his family. There is the drunk Indian father, with the ever-suffering white woman at his side. One wonders about the point of depicting harmful stereotypes until the reader realizes that this is the kind of story that can only be told by intimately observing and knowing racial trauma.
Mythology that depicts the worldview of the Sdohobsh people threads the narrative, as exemplified by Jonny’s spirit visions during times of great danger. The parable that runs through the story is an allegory of tribal life, drawing connections to the lives of young people who are searching for their place in a chaotic world.
A feminist reader of The Rez may question the portrayal of young women, whose concerns appear trivial and petty. Girls are essentialized by their developing bodies. The dialogue among Chinese-American Nikki-D and her white friends may seem removed from reality, as young women generally don’t talk about each other’s bodies in that manner. The author does a much better job painting the textured inner life of Jonny: quiet, unassuming, and often silenced by his speech impediment. Jonny carries a great deal of emotional and spiritual depth, showing the strength of his conviction when it matters most.
The Rez is an American love story not only because of budding and unrequited romantic interests, but also because of what the novel says about America. It’s a story of insider and outsider groups, about who’s considered American. The Rez offers lessons on resiliency among young people with indigenous and immigrant roots and their search to find common ground amid large-scale societal shifts.
|Author||G. Michael Madison|
|Page Count||365 pages|
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