AOG Literature Review | “Oracles,” by Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel

Just like my previous entries, there were some hiatuses, but I managed to get this one done.

Plot

In the fictional Yantuck Mountain, the reservation must prepare for the appointment of an Oracle. This novel blurs the distinction between science fiction and spirituality, as well as “spirituality.” The main protagonist is a girl named Ashneon Quay, who studies to become a Medicine Woman for the tribe and is coming home from her university. From that point, she gradually comprehends the importance of her tribal culture amidst the non-indigenous culture she was surrounded by.

Later in the novel, we get to see how truly devastated the reservation and the Quay family has become that go beyond the casino catastrophe.

In between the plot, there are brief legends of the mythology that exists in this novel’s mythopoeia.

Themes

The separation between the Yantuck’s world and the outside world that permeates the conflict of the book. Tomuck finds fault in his fellow natives who have lost their way of life to casinos. The casino that burned down also plays a crucial role in the story and is symbolic of the intrusion of Western aesthetics in indigenous society along with many other intrusions that occur within the story.

“There was a magnetic strength there, one that you couldn’t get from virtual workouts on the cy, only from native genetics and old-time Indian-living.”

Essentially, the main problems that occur in the Yantuck Reservation, and indeed throughout the world outside of it, is the dissolution of tribal customs in a world rife with corruption and tokenism. Indeed, there are the evil spirits in this novel being representative of appropriations for kitsch marketing. Although I did see that with the Yantuck’s culture, I barely saw it with how this impacts the other cultures, such as the one that a character from Mali has, who barely shows up throughout the story.

The spirits themselves seem to only exist in the world through communication with such people like Ashneon.

I did have problem deducing what exactly “cy” was at the beginning, but I am starting to think that Tantaquidgeon may have predicted the rise of the “i-” in “iPhone,” “iPad,” and other forms of modern technology. Even though I figured out that it had to do with technology in this world as in the word “cyborg,” I did not get a lot of detail about exactly how futuristic the technology is supposed to be.

Characters

The protagonist is a girl named Ashneon Quay, who possesses the supernatural ability to communicate with the other world. However, there seemed to be more focus on the world outside of her than the one she is already dealing with and she seems too perfect in handling those problems.

I did like the connection she has with her great-uncle Tomuck. He seems to be an interesting character in between the abstract meanderings of his ominous forebodings.

There is conflict within the family as Obed, her older cousin, is in line to become the next Oracle, even though he has been associating himself with these appropriating forces.

Writing Style

There is a sense of hypnotism that involves blurring the distinction between the description and plot. It forced me to read every single word. At the same time, it did prove quite confusing to follow the plot.

As mentioned before, the use of the word “cy-” is used as a prefix for some other form of technology, such as “cycams,” “cyperazzi,” “cyporter,” etc. There were no concrete descriptions about what constitutes a “cy-.”

There definitely are Native American words that are rooted in Mohegan that appear in the form of not just names, but also in phrases and interjections.

Mohegan

They are a Native American tribe indigenous to New England and were among the first nations in what would become the United States to come into contact with colonists.

Melissa Tantaquidgeon-Zobel herself is a Mohegan descended from the Medicine Woman Gladys Tantaquidgeon who lived to be 103.

Relation to Native American Heritage

What makes this work unique amongst the books reviewed thus far is the creation of a tribe that is also part of the Algonquin family, just like Mohegan. They are called the Yantuck tribe and have their own reservation, mountain, and culture. They even reside next to the Quinnipaug River, which is a close reference to the Quinnipiac River in the State of Connecticut.

In the appendix, there are also references to Mohegan history, with characters being named after historical and mythological figures. Ashneon, for example, was the pseudonym used by Samson Occom, who was among the first Mohegans to convert to Christianity. More specifically, these historical allusions harken back to the colonial era of the early 1600’s era.

As mentioned before, there are words throughout the novel that are rooted in Mohegan. However, it was never established how the Yantuck Tribe came to be, how–like tribes in the eastern coast such as the Lenape–if they weren’t relocated into the western part of the United States then they were not given tribal status and labeled as “Black” or “Mixed,” even where this Yantuck Mountain is located. I would presume that it is located in the New England area.

Viewing the cy between blips of static noise

I will say that there is not only an interesting case of world-building but also one of language manipulation. Ashneon is a decent enough protagonist who retains a precocious view of her responsibilities in the face of a world biased against her. However, the world seems to have significant problems.

 

Tantaquidgeon-Zobel, Melissa. “Oracles: A Novel.” University of New Mexico Press. 2004.

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