Bill moves through the bleachers, picking up trash. He is part of the maintenance crew after games. He takes pride in his work, even though he knows he was only given this particular job out of respect for how long he’s been working at the stadium. Bill’s reveries are interrupted by a phone call from Karen, his girlfriend. He imagines that Karen is calling about some matter related to her son, Edwin. Bill thinks Edwin is a big thirty-year-old baby, tech-savvy but unprepared for the real world. Bill is pessimistic about the way things are going since most kids these days are just like Edwin. Nevertheless, he picks up the phone. It is indeed Karen, calling to ask him to pick up Edwin after work. She convinces him, saying that Edwin can’t handle riding the bus home and that it’s important that he feels comfortable going to work so that, eventually, he can move out. Bill grudgingly acquiesces. He thinks about the day Edwin got kicked off the bus for an incident with a vet, who chased him all the way to work from his wheelchair. Bill thinks the incident is both funny and sad.
Bill hasn’t always had his life so together. In 1971, he was dishonorably discharged from Vietnam for going AWOL. He returned from Vietnam, doing so many drugs that the only thing he can remember now from that time is watching sports games. He got sentenced to five years in San Quentin jail for stabbing someone outside a bar, completely drunk. In jail, however, Bill was able to read. He read everything. When he got out, in 1989, he got hired by Oakland Athletics, where he works now. Doing his job at the stadium, Bill sees a drone flying around. He yells at it to stop, watching it through his binoculars. He runs toward it, getting closer and angrier. He reaches it, ready to destroy it, but the drone escapes, over the edge of the coliseum and out of sight.
Calvin is living at his sister Maggie’s house. He likes living with her and her daughter, Sonny. It feels more like home than home did, ever since their dad left them. Maggie has bipolar disorder, like their mother, but unlike her, Maggie is medicated and has her life together. Carlos gets home from and work and has dinner with Maggie and Sonny, but they are interrupted by the arrival of their brother, Charles, and his friend, Carlos. They have come to collect the money Calvin owes—he had gotten robbed in the parking lot—but he doesn’t have it yet. Calvin calls his brother out, asking him why he told him to go check out the Powwow in the first place—did he know what was coming for him in that parking lot? And, if so, why did he want him to get robbed? To keep him around?
Charles and Carlos take Calvin to a house party. They smoke a blunt in the car on the way there, and Calvin gets high quite fast. When they arrive, Octavio walks in, livid at the sight of Calvin. Octavio pulls out a white magnum pistol and points it at Calvin. Charles and Carlos try to calm him down, telling him they just want to remind Calvin what he owes. Calvin imagines a scuffle, but it’s all in his head. The moment breaks and everyone begins laughing. They tell Calvin about their plan to rob the Oakland Powwow, saying they got the gun at his suggestion—even though he had been joking. This is now the plan to get the money that he owes. Octavio agrees and opens a tequila bottle. They drank half the bottle, and before the last shot, Octavio gives Calvin a hug. Finally, Charles and Carlos take Calvin home. On the way out, they see a kid on his bike with a droopy face watching everyone from far off. Calvin wants to say something to that kid, but he doesn’t know why. They drive off into the night.
Jacquie Red Feather
Jacquie has flown from Albuquerque to Phoenix for a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration conference on the theme of “Keeping Them From Harm.” She is ten days into sobriety since her most recent lapse, which was relatively uneventful as far as relapses go. Jacquie checks into the hotel, where the pool reminds her of one night when she was just six years old. It was one of the many times her mom had run away from her sister Opal’s dad, and the three of them were in a hotel near the Oakland airport for the night. All alone, Jacquie had snuck down to the hotel pool and had one of the best nights of her life alone in the water—even though she couldn’t swim. Now, in the hotel room, Jacquie texts Opal to ask how her grandsons, whom she’s never met, are doing. Opal takes care of them in Oakland. Opal texts back: Orvil found spider legs in his leg. Jacquie is perplexed by this. She is tempted to open the mini fridge, full of alcohol, but she doesn’t. She decides to go for a swim in the pool. She relaxes in the water, smoking a cigarette and trying not to think about how much she wants to go buy alcohol from the store. She goes back to the room, drinks a Pepsi and eats trail mix, flipping through TV channels until she falls asleep.
There are about two hundred people in the ballroom where the conference is held the next day, mostly old Indian women, then old white women, then old Indian men. The first speaker is a man who wears Jordans and has a faded head tattoo. He steps up to the mic and begins telling his story: about twenty years ago, he attended a conference like this one. He was forced into a program as part of a plea bargain he took, and the program took him to this conference. While he attended, his little brother, fourteen years old, found a gun he kept in his closet and shot himself between the eyes. The man tells the audience that he’s been working in suicide prevention ever since, and there’s a problem in how many people approaches the issue. People have been trying to solve the suicide problem with bandaids, he says: convincing kids that life is worth living won’t work if we don’t do anything to make life worth living. They have to do the work for the communities they care about, he tells the crowd, not for career advancement or grant objectives.
Jacquie runs out of the conference room after hearing the man speak and heads back to her hotel room, where she shuts the door and bursts into tears. Behind her tightly shut eyes, she sees the memory of her daughter’s body when she identified it at the coroner, with needle punctures all over her arms and a bullet wound between her eyes. Before that day, she had been sober for six months straight. After that day, she drank every night for six years, waking up each morning to go to work as a bus driver until she had fallen asleep at the wheel and crashed the bus. After a month in residential treatment, she left Oakland for Albuquerque and became a certified substance abuse counselor at an Indian Health Clinic without ever becoming sober. In her hotel room, Jacquie opens her computer and finds all the emails Opal has sent her over the years with pictures of her grandsons. She looks at them, wishing she had a drink, until she falls asleep.
The next day, still at the conference, Jacquie attends an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. She recognizes the leader of the group as Harvey, her rapist from Alcatraz Island back when they were teens. When it’s her turn to speak, she puts a cough drop in her mouth and tells her story. She starts where it all begins, she says: on Alcatraz with a “piece-of-shit” kid. She gave the daughter from that rape up for adoption when she was seventeen. Later, she had another daughter, but she kept drinking. She quit her job over the drinking. Her daughter Jamie died, leaving behind three grandsons, but she kept drinking and left them. After she shares her story, Jacquie stops listening to the others in the circle. She thinks back to the day before she left Alcatraz, when she saw Harvey standing in the freezing-cold water off the island. He was hiding from his dad. The meeting ends and both Jacquie and Harvey stay behind. Harvey apologizes and asks Jacquie if there is any way to find out about their daughter. He offers her a ride to Oakland, where he is going for the Powwow, to meet his long-lost son. She refuses and heads back to the hotel room, where she tries not to drink. Eventually, she sends a text to Opal, asking if she can stay with her if she comes to Oakland.
Orvil Red Feather
Orvil stands in front of Opal’s bedroom mirror in full regalia. He is worried that Opal might walk in on him; when he found the regalia in her closet years ago by accident, she told him he shouldn’t mess around with any of that stuff. She never taught any of the boys any Indian culture, saying that it was a privilege they didn’t have—and anyways, it didn’t make them any less Indian to not know anything. Opal is technically Orvil’s great-aunt, but she officially adopted his brothers and him a few years back: Jamie, his mother, was a heroin addict who shot herself between the eyes when Orvil was six. Jamie was the one who came up with the unusual spellings of Orvil’s name and his brothers’ names: Lony and Loother. Now, Orvil looks at himself in the mirror with the regalia on. Everything he knows about Indian culture is from surfing the web on his own. The first time he saw a dancer on TV, he knew he wanted to join them and be part of something in that way.
The brothers head out to get Lony a new bike. On the way, they stop at the Indian Center, where Orvil has signed up to get paid for an interview with Dene Oxendene for his film project. Orvil tells Dene the story of the first time his family thought his mom had overdosed. They found her facedown on the kitchen floor, bleeding and passed out. Orvil called 911. It turned out that Jamie had just passed out from the fall, not overdosed, but Orvil and his brothers got adopted by Opal anyway. Dene thanks Orvil for the story, and the brothers leave. Orvil is sad remembering the story, but it still feels good to have told it, and now he has two hundred dollars. In the bathroom, he scratches the lump that has been on his legs for as long as he can remember. This time, though, he pulls out what look like spider legs. He shows his brother, who Googles it but comes up empty. The brothers ride their bikes through Oakland, each listening to music. Orvil likes to listen to Powwow music, Loother to rap, and Lony to Beethoven.
The next day is the day of the Powwow. The brothers plan to go, but they don’t want Opal to find out since she would try to stop them. They sneak out of the house in the morning and ride their bikes through Oakland. On their way there, pedaling hard, Lony turns to his brothers and asks them what a Powwow is. They make fun of him. Orvil finally answers: they have to keep doing the old ways, the dancing and singing, he says, or it might disappear. They keep going and arrive at the Powwow, where they see more Indians arriving, too. In Orvil’s backpack is his regalia, as well as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches he’s brought because the food at the Powwow is always expensive. To be able to afford at least an Indian taco, the brothers scrape the coins out of the fountain behind the Mormon Temple. When they get to the entrance at the coliseum, the brothers realize they have forgotten their bike lock, but they have to go in. They hide their bikes in the bushes and proceed.
Part II expands the web of characters in There There by building on the stories told in Part I. As a formal technique, this contributes to the structure and form of the novel in several ways. First, it is an effective method of advancing character development, circling back to characters we only heard about on the peripheries of Part I. For example, Bill was previously introduced by Edwin in Part I simply as a vaguely annoying presence in his home. Now, however, readers learn about some of Bill's pain, fears, and dreams. Thus these sections create a more robust and nuanced perspective on characters previously introduced. Second, this shift in perspective also serves to fill in the gaps of plot points and advance the story. In Jacquie’s section, for example, readers learn that Harvey, Edwin’s father, is the same Harvey who, as a teenager, raped Jacquie. This is an important plot point, and by revealing it in stages, Orange adds to the suspense and drama surrounding it.
This interrelated network of characters developed throughout the course of Parts I and II also reveals the thematic importance of connection, community, and family. Readers meet quite a few disparate characters in Part I, but Part II makes clear that each character is in fact related in some way to the others. Readers might have thought each of these characters’ narratives operated independently, but Part II shows that they are in fact part of a single, far-reaching community. Rather than living in isolation, they shape and are shaped by each others’ lives. This serves as a counterpoint to the disparate nature of the stories in Part I. Perhaps this interconnectedness, too, is the common feature of Native life in Oakland—the implicit lesson of Dene’s film project on Native life in Oakland, critiqued for lack of vision.
Another, darker theme emerges out of Part II, in continuation from Part I: addiction and substance abuse. Most of the characters introduced so far struggle to keep addiction at bay. Jacquie’s story is a poignant depiction of these illnesses wreaking havoc on characters’ lives. Her life has been shaped by many alcohol-related disasters. Orange also does not flinch from showing the day-to-day monotony of her alcoholism. In her hotel, Jacquie lies on the bed, goes swimming, and watches TV, each tedious second that crawls by without opening the mini-fridge or going to the store another small victory. This struggle is intergenerational, too: Jacquie’s daughter, Jamie, is a heroin addict and ultimately commits suicide. Characters also connect their substance abuse issues to their Native identity and a violent colonial legacy. At an Alcoholics Anonymous conference, for example, Harvey says, “It’s what we have to go to when it seems like we have nothing left" (112). Thus Orange does not only depict these illnesses in terms of the individuals they afflict, but also as a structural issue facing the Native community.
Part II also complicates the setting of the novel. Oakland is still the primary site of action, but the characters introduced here move outside the boundaries of the city at various times. For example, after a traumatic stint in Vietnam, Bill comes home with a drug problem. That’s when he begins to find solace in Oakland-based sports teams. For Bill, then, Oakland becomes important as a site of home and comfort only after leaving it. In another example, Jacquie has left Oakland altogether, unable to face her drinking problem and her grandsons under the weight of her trauma. In an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, she talks how difficult it is to go home, and how she is “trying to make [her] way back” to Oakland. Thus for Jacquie, Oakland represents home, but also a difficult place, where she will have to face her trauma. With these examples, Orange complicates his depiction of what Oakland symbolizes in the novel. On the one hand, it is very much home. For many characters in both Part I and II, Oakland is their only home, their truest home, and their family. On the other hand, Oakland also represents trauma. Jacquie, for example, lost both her mother and her second-born daughter, Jamie in the city of Oakland. In this way, Orange demonstrates that home can represent both comfort and loss.
Part II also continues to develop the foreshadowing that begins in Part I. The main source of foreboding is the quickly-approaching Oakland Powwow. Readers learn further details about the Powwow in this section: the origins of the plan to rob it, Orvil’s fantasy of dancing in regalia during the ceremony, and Jacquie’s return to Oakland. Thus the action of the novel continues to orient in the direction of this convergence. Another element of foreshadowing surfaces when Orvil finds spider legs in an itchy bump on his leg. His brothers gather around, unable to figure out what it is. Opal and Jacquie exchange texts wondering about it. There is something unknown and ominous about the spider legs, a development that contributes to the ominous tone of Part II.