Sunday, December 21, 2014


Earlier today I finished reading a NetGalley copy of Nick Lake's There Will Be Lies. Due out in January of 2015, I do not recommend it.

The front matter for There Will be Lies includes a "Dear Reader" letter from Nick Lake. In that letter, he talks about a coyote that he saw in January of 2012:
In January 2012 I was standing on the grounds of a hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona, looking up at the stars, when a coyote ran past me on the path. It noticed me, stopped, and stared at me, shivering.
After a while, it turned and left. That moment stayed with him, he writes, and he knew he'd use it in his writing. He writes that, in fact, it turned into a key moment in There Will Be Lies. He goes on:
Then came something slightly spooky, as often happens with books. You see, what I didn't know until after I'd written the first draft of the novel was that the Navajo believed that a coyote crossed your path you would be hurt, suffer an accident, or be killed.
What is up with the past tense "Navajo believed" line? What are you telling your readers? That Navajos don't exist anymore? Or that they no longer believe whatever you think they believe about coyotes? And where did that info about coyotes come from?

Lake was in Scottsdale, a very wealthy area. Maybe he asked someone? And they told him that bit about coyotes crossing your path? (I think I know the answer; it'll come later on in this review.)

There Will Be Lies is set in Scottsdale. At the end of chapter two, the protagonist--a 17 year old girl named Shelby Jane Cooper--imagines the area 500 years ago (p. 10-11):
...before the settlers came, when the Apache and the Navajo and the Yavapai wandered the desert. Now they don't wander so much--they stick to the Yavapai Nation reservation up in the hills near Flagstaff.
Lake doesn't specify, but I'm guessing he figures his readers will fill in the gaps--that they'll know that the Apache and the Navajo have their own reservations--but I wonder if he (and his readers) know that there's actually more than one Apache Nation? There's the White Mountain Apaches, and the San Carlos Apaches, and the Jicarilla Apache's, too! All different. As for the Yavapai Nation being near Flagstaff? Nope. It is 23 miles northeast of Phoenix, and I kind think they'd be annoyed with Lake telling readers that they "stick" to their reservation. Anybody--Native or not--pretty much sticks to their neighborhoods, going elsewhere for work or school or shopping, but saying this about Native peoples... well, it is bugging me and I'm not sure why.

On page 12, Shelby says this ('she' is her mom):
...she's twenty feet ahead of me now, passing the Apache Dreams restaurant, a low block of a building with floor-to-ceiling windows. As far as I know it serves mainly waffles, which is a weird thing for an Apache to dream about.
Why is that a weird thing for an Apache to dream about? Are we supposed to think that the restaurant itself is owned by an Apache, and that the owner dreamt about waffles and so has a waffle restaurant? Why can't an Apache like waffles? I do.

When we get to page 28, Shelby is in the local library. She goes over to the Native American section. She's never been to that part of the library before. There's a book open on a table. She sees this line:
If Coyote crosses your path, turn back and do not continue your journey. Something terrible will happen--
The title of the book is Navajo Ceremonial Tales. I did a quick search on that title, given my curiosity about where Lake got that information about coyote (in his Dear Reader letter). I found a book by Gerald Hausman with "Navajo Ceremonial Tales" as part of its title. Having reviewed one of his books about a Pueblo story, I did an 'oh-oh' to myself. Then I did a search on that line about coyote crossing your path, and sure enough, Hausman's name comes up, but so do a few other pages, with the exact same line, but... none of them are Navajo sites or voices. The line seems to be coming right out of Hausman's book. Hausman isn't Navajo. He isn't Native at all, but has a LOT of books about various tribes. What is that phrase... dollars to donuts that you wouldn't read any of his books in an American Indian Studies class at any university or college in the US. Maybe you would... in some kind of course in... the UK? Where Lake is from!

At the library, Shelby flirts a bit with a guy named Mark who works there. He wants to get together after his shift but Shelby can't do it. She notices he has a dog tattoo above his collarbone. Outside while waiting for her cab, she's hit by a car. While waiting for an ambulance, a coyote comes up to her. She realizes that Mark's tattoo is a coyote, not a dog. The coyote seems to speak directly into her head. It tells her that there will be "two lies" followed by "the truth."

At the hospital, Shelby wakes to learn that she has a fractured ankle and foot. They'll need to operate in the morning to reduce the displacement of the bones in her foot. There are stitches from her ankle to her toes, and she will be wearing a CAM Walker (air boot) for four weeks. (I'm noting this because I had a fractured ankle in Aug 2014 and the things that Shelby will do next don't jibe with my experience of having a fractured ankle.)

After the operation, Shelby and her mom leave the hospital. She's surprised that her mom has rented a car and that there are suitcases with their clothes in the trunk. They're going on a trip, her mother says, and then she tells Shelby that her dad isn't really dead, as she's been told all her life. He's a violent person, her mom says, who had started hurting Shelby when she was a toddler. It is why Shelby's mom left him, but he's tried to find them before, which prompted them to move from Albuquerque to Phoenix. Now, again, they're leaving, apparently because of him. As they leave Phoenix and drive north in the desert, Shelby thinks (p. 60):
I mean, this landscape hasn't changed since the Native Americans rode their horses across it.
In a lot of places in the U.S., the landscape hasn't changed. I suppose Shelby's words reflect what she gets from television and books--Plains Indians.

Shelby and her mom stop at a campground where her mom gets friendly with a guy there named Luke. Shelby doesn't like it one bit. That night, they sit by the fire talking (p. 68):
They talk Apache culture, which I'm surprised to find Mom knows something about. The Navajo Star Chant, whatever that is. Luke gets very excited about something to do with four sacred colors, or something.
Umm... How do we go from Apache culture to the "Navajo Star Chant"? It suggests to me, again, that Lake is mashing distinct nations together. Recall he did it earlier?

Luke is going to show them some ruins the next day. Shelby and her mom don't have a tent, so they'll sleep in their car. Shelby can't sleep though, and looks out the window. There's a coyote there, and she remembers the line from the book and thinks about Mark.

That night she has a dream where she hears a child crying. It is a recurring dream, but that crying child and "the Dreaming" (that is how it is written over and over) itself will take up a huge part of the rest of the book. I found all of that tedious. Coyote is in those dreams, as are talking elks, and wolves, and snakes... And a crone. And a castle. It is all quite hokey to me, but apparently it is being read as "drawing from Native American mythologies." My best guess? It is drawn from Hausman.

The next morning they ride with Luke to the Agua Fria National Monument. They get started on a trail. This is less than 24 hours after her operation. It doesn't make sense that she would be doing this hike. There are signs telling them the ruins (p. 80):
...belong to the Perry Mesa culture, and date from around 1,000 CE. They predate the Apache, Yavapai or Navajo, and not much is understood about their culture.
Apache, Yavapai, Navajo... again. It is getting a bit redundant. There are a lot more Nations in the area. Why does Lake repeatedly name these three? They look at the ruins and some petroglyphs and then take a steep path down the canyon to a creek. They walk some more and find petroglyphs of elks. Luke reads from a guide book, telling her that elks were sacred to the Perry Mesa people but modern day Yavapai and Apache don't revere them.

Shelby's mom does a lot of very puzzling things that will make sense as you continue reading. Given my focus on Native content, I'm not going to get into Shelby, her mom, or other people that will come into the story.

After another two nights with Luke (at the camp and then in Flagstaff motel), Shelby and her mom take off to a cabin her mom knows about (her mom was a court stenographer and knows the cabin owner won't be there). We're on page 170 at this point (skipping over all the tedious dreaming, with coyote, and elks, and...).

When they go inside, Shelby sees some books about Native Americans on the shelf. They are Stories of the Hopi, and Navajo Firelight and The Mythology of the Major Native American Tribes. Hausman has a book called Turtle Dream: Collected Stories from the Hopi, Navajo, Pueblo, and Havasupai People. Note the word dream in the title...  If I read it, would I find it as the source for Lake's constructions of Shelby's dreams?

A bit later in the book (on page 191), Shelby thinks about her dreams and decides to look over the books (p. 191):
I see one on Apache folk tales so I take it down and go sit again, curling up, the book in my lap. 
She leafs through it to a story about Coyote stealing fire from the Fire God (p. 192):
The Fire God lived in a hogan with high walls. 
Wait... A hogan? I thought she was reading a book about Apache folk tales!

All of "the Dreaming" and lies and "the truth" will resolve but I gotta say, again and again, I was rolling my eyes and uttering curse words as I read this book. The messed up Native content and the not-plausible things Shelby does so soon after fracturing her ankle...  Overall, this book feels very mediocre. As noted above, I read a copy from NetGalley and presumably the author will be able to make corrections based on what people say after reading the NetGalley copy, but there's too much wrong. (NOTE: There are other problems, such as the ways that Shelby talks about her mom's weight, that I didn't like. See Pamela Penzu's review on Goodreads.)

Nick Lake's There Will Be Lies is due out in January of 2015 from Bloomsbury. I do not recommend it.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand what your rationale is that because Scottsdale is a wealthy community that makes the residents and visitors somehow less authentic or more likely to be inaccurate about Native issues. I do think your points would come across more clearly if you didn't sully them with unnecessary potshots.

Sara said...

I don't disagree with the issues you have pointed out. However, unless you specifically know that Hausman's book(s) is taught in UK Universities, I think your assumption that Lake was taught the book there or read it in the UK is unfair. There are many places Lake could have found the inaccuracies he believed were correct, but drawing your reasoning simply because of the country he is from is to say that everyone in the UK must use incorrect sources on American Indian topics. You are able to identify stereotypes and false conclusions about American Indians very astutely, and I wish you could have seen that your comment, "What is that phrase... dollars to donuts that you wouldn't read any of his books in an American Indian Studies class at any university or college in the US. Maybe you would... in some kind of course in... the UK? Where Lake is from!" is an assumption that was as insulting, misinformed, and insensitive as so many you have recognized.

Debbie Reese said...

Anon on Dec 23:

My experience in Scottsdale and Santa Fe and other affluent places is that there's a love of things-Native that is highly romanticized. In those areas you'll find a lot of flute music and sage, and dreamcatchers, and Kokopelli's. It is a lot of well-meaning adoration, but the adoration is a bit misplaced.

You'll likely find book that reflect that romanticized theme, too. Books by people like Brooke Medicine Eagle--who is not Native. You aren't likely to find books by Native writers in them.

And here's an important note that most people don't know: jewelry that is marked as American Indian must be made by an American Indian. The person you buy it from should give you evidence of the maker's identity. That is a federal law to protect the consumer from getting ripped off.

Debbie Reese said...


Prior to reading this book, I didn't know that Lake was from the UK. There are a lot of writers from there that take on Native themes and do it in this same romanticized way. Susan Cooper, for example, did it in Ghost Hawk.

I've never pulled up a syllabus for a university course in the UK to see what people there are reading. I do wonder how writers there get their information. Are you there? If you are, it'd be terrific to get an insider look at what people in the UK learn about Native people of the US.