Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of friends who are always out experiencing the best of entertainment. Be it plays, films, concerts, exhibits, or games, they’ve learned that the arts are best when experienced together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. As the Thanksgiving season fades away, the Girls discuss a Native American story of revenge and maturity. Let’s listen in on their conversation…
“Thanks for the recommendation.”
Eleanor looked up. Gwen stood, holding out a dog-eared copy of The Round House.
“Oh!” Eleanor said, sitting up. “You read it!”
“I did.” Gwen sat, paging through the book. “Where did you hear about it? A blogger?”
“A podcast,” Eleanor answered. “It’s one of those book-of-the-week deals. They’re reading Native American fiction all through November – some repentance for the Pilgrims, I suppose.”
“And this was the first one. So I read it, loved it, send it to you and Dania.” Eleanor stood to grab her copy. “I didn’t know you were actually going to read it!”
“For sure,” Gwen said, watching Eleanor exit. “You caught me at the right time, I was just needing another book to read.”
“That’s awesome,” Eleanor said.
Gwen read the back cover again – now that she finished the book, she was impressed with how little of the narrative was given away. The blurb had initially given the impression of a whodunit-style mystery on a North Dakota reservation. While the book had started there, the resulting story contained multitudes more than any synopsis could say – though the relative secrecy of these twists gave the book its charm.
“Where’s the book?” Eleanor called from the other room.
“I don’t know,” Gwen called back. She heard a scuffling outside the door, and knew Dania had returned home. Had she read the book too? Gwen was unsure. They’d both started it, but she had no confirmation that Dania had continued, or stopped a chapter in.
Dania entered as Eleanor did, pulling off winter gear.
“Hey Dania,” Eleanor said. “Have you seen my copy of The Round House?”
“Warm greeting,” Dania chuckled.
“Okay, hi, Dania, how was your day,” Eleanor said. “Now, have you seen this book?”
“Yeah, it’s on my desk,” Dania said, crossing through the room.
“Well,” Gwen said, glancing at Eleanor. “There it is.”
“What’s my copy of the book doing in your room?” Gwen added, following Dania.
“I mean, you left it on the table out there,” Dania said, holding out the book. “Like I’m going to go buy my own copy when yours is just sitting there.”
“So you did read it!” Gwen said. “I was worried you weren’t going to finish it.”
“What do you mean?” Dania asked. “When I say I’m gonna do something, I do it.”
“Fair,” Gwen said, backing off.
“It wasn’t hard, you know,” Dania said, coming back into the room. “It’s a good book, good mystery.”
“Is it a mystery?” Eleanor asked. “It’s more of a revenge story.”
“It’s both,” Gwen said. “It’s also a bildungsroman.”
Dania looked slant at Gwen. “Um, okay.” She crossed through the room. “It’s also a Westphalian and an horticulturalist, you wanna give me a definition?”
“A coming-of-age story,” Eleanor answered. “I know that one.”
“It is, though,” Gwen said. “Explicitly, by the end. I think Joe actually says at one point ‘I was no longer a child,’ or the like.”
“It’s mostly a mystery,” Dania said. “Finding the person who attacked the mom and trying to find justice, along with the dad.”
“Well, that is one of my few criticisms,” Eleanor said. “I thought the dad was going to be in more of it. He and Joe kind of peeled away from each other as the story went on, I wanted more interaction between them.”
“That’s part of the growing up angle,” Gwen surmised. “His maturation includes spending more time with his friends, who are also growing up. Cappy is arguably a more important character than anyone else. Even Joe, if you consider the story as a Gatsby-esque narrative told from the perspective of a side character.”
“Joe’s not a side character, though,” Dania argued. “He’s the lead guy. It’s his mom, after all.”
“The funny thing is – and this is probably just because Season 2 of Stranger Things dropped right before I started reading – I was thinking most of the time that this is the same ‘kids on bikes’ genre. You know, Stranger Things, E.T., Paper Girls, It…”
“All important stories about growing up,” Gwen agreed.
“But with bikes, specifically,” Dania said. “Lots of traveling. They actually – I mean everyone – everyone is traveling in this book.”
“It’s almost Grapes of Wrath-ish,” Gwen concurred. “The long descriptions of the scenery. All necessary, for tone. She paints the scene sparsely, but effectively.”
“It’s not just like the other bike kids. There’s nothing supernatural in the book, mostly. But you get the point.”
“What about the ghost?” Eleanor asked.
“That was in his head,” Dania said. “What, you think there was literally a ghost there?”
“I thought so,” Gwen said. “Some kind of spirit guide, keeping him moving toward justice.”
“Okay, racist,” Dania said. “Claiming all Native American stories have spirit guides.”
“He literally consults with his grandfather about spirits in this book,” Gwen defended. “It’s in there already.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“It’s funny,” Eleanor said. “I couldn’t decide if the book is really clichéd or really original. Like, it’s really interesting and surprising – I couldn’t predict where it was going to go, and every time I made a prediction I was dead wrong. Plus the characters are nice to hang out with, especially the scenes with all four young boys.”
“I’ll admit I laughed at the ‘Emperor versus Darth Vader’ conversation by the lake,” Gwen smiled.
“I mean, I’m a huge Star Trek nerd,” Dania said, “I was 100% on board for every reference they tossed in.”
“Cappy says ‘Make It So’ at the end, right before the final moment.”
“Anyway,” Eleanor said, taking back focus, “The characters and the tone of the writing are all very original. But, when you consider the actual action of the book, it is sorta derivative. Very ‘kids on bikes,’ very ‘murder mystery,’ very ‘improbably permissive aunts and uncles,’ very ‘screwed over by the white establishment.'”
“Well, that never gets old,” Dania commented.
“I would agree,” Gwen said. “I don’t think that makes it bad, though.”
“Oh, no, definitely not,” Eleanor agreed. “Just a comment.”
“If anything, that adds to the strange timelessness of the story. It’s clearly set in the 1980s, and the issues feel very modern. But the conflict being so personal means that no matter what actions the story takes, we know the real conflict is within Joe the whole time. It’s a universal story.”
“I mean, that’s just fiction analysis,” Eleanor said. “Stuff does happen in the book. There’s a mystery to solve.”
“I was disappointed about one thing,” Dania said. “It’s like: we start off and the question is ‘who did this to the mom.’ But then we basically figure it out halfway through the book. Then it becomes about the achieving justice angle. Like, what’s the conflict?”
“Okay, yes, it’s internal,” Dania said, glaring at Gwen. “But it’s a weird sort of shift from mystery to revenge that feels unintended.”
“Even after that,” Eleanor continued. “We manage to…I don’t know, achieve justice with still two more chapters to go. And then there’s more about the fallout from that.”
“It’s certainly not a clear Aristotelian dramatic arc,” Gwen said. “It’s mostly there, but there’s more to it than that. Longer and more significant falling action.”
“I just think it ended too early,” Dania said. “But at least it’s still good to read. Though I wanted more about the Cappy/Zelia relationship.”
“I wanted more about the father,” Eleanor said. “Considering he’s set up as a lawyer, and it’s about justice…”
“Well, if the father’s there too long, it’s not about maturity,” Gwen began.
“I think the Sonja parts are about maturity,” Dania said, staring hard at a wall.
“Right, Sonja!” Gwen said. She paused, then added: “Right, Sonja…”
“Yeah, I’m conflicted about Sonja,” Eleanor said. “On one hand, it’s good to see her relationship with Whitey depicted in a way that centers her rather than the guy. But on the other hand…”
“The dance scene is a lot,” Dania said. “It’s…weird to read through.”
“Agreed,” Gwen said.
“I mean, I think ultimately I don’t hate her character,” Eleanor said. “She certainly seems like a fully realized character, rather than a lust-object for Joe to talk about. She has agency.”
“But does she?” Gwen said. “I’m not certain she does.”
“She plans for Joe’s future, she thinks ahead,” Eleanor said. “Sure, it’s not the best decisions she makes, but she makes decisions. You can tell she’s flawed, but trying.”
“I mean, same,” Dania said. “I don’t know, I wasn’t reading it for critique, like you probably were, Gwen.”
“I was simply reading,” Gwen countered. “I think it’s a fine book – a classical type of narrative with a modern tone and atmosphere that makes it stand out. But yes, I could argue the finer points if necessary.”
“You always can,” Eleanor shrugged. “And do. But I’m so glad you both read it!”
“Of course,” Dania said, looking down at the book. “I’m always down for more mysteries set in exotic and interesting places, like North Dakota.”
“Who are you, their tourism board?” Gwen asked Dania, glancing towards Eleanor.
“No, I’m just a fan of big empty plains,” Dania responded dryly. As Eleanor and Gwen began to leave, she continued. “Maybe it is a little supernatural,” she said. “After all, I’m not entire sure North Dakota exists.”
“It’s where the Standing Rock Sioux are,” Eleanor shot back. “The #NoDAPL people.”
Image Source: Nudge Books