The Chetek Area Book Club will meet for an approximately hour-long discussion of “The Water Dancer” by author, Atlantic correspondent and recipient of a MacArthur Genius Grant Ta-Nehisi Coates at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 22, at Calhoun Memorial Library.

Coates’ first foray in writing fiction, “The Water Dancer,” is categorized as “magic realism.”  That means the novel combines a fact-based narrative with surreal elements of dream or fantasy.

Narrated by slave Hiram Walker, the story details the hardships of slavery. However, nine-year-old Walker possesses a preternatural memory, allowing him to access the memories of others, living and dead. Then at 19, Walker has a near fatal accident and discovers he has a special gift that works, in part, with his memory. Walker’s power of “conduction” is capable of transporting him and others out of danger.

Of course, as a coming-of-age novel a love story develops between Walker and fellow slave Sophia. Unfortunately, Sophia and many of the other supporting characters represent ideas and, thus, lack humanity and relatability. The ideas of female independence, white supremacy, and the loss of black culture and identity certainly are important but should be shown through characterization, not explained to readers by the characters.

On the other hand, Coates writes beautifully and lyrically which keeps readers engaged despite his blending of history and fantasy. After meeting Harriet Tubman, Walker begins his quest to employ his fantastic superpower to assist her in helping slaves escape.

Eric Herschthal of The New Republic writes that “On its surface, [The Water Dancer] is a traditional resistance narrative ... The novel is at its best when Coates is excavating...subtler truths. If Hiram’s awareness that freedom is meaningless without family is one, then Coates’s refusal to cast his black characters as simple heroes or victims is another…. ‘The Water Dancer’ seems to dwell on interracial ties to remind us how deeply black and white histories are intertwined. In the United States at least, it is not just blood-ties that many of us share, but the ties of a deeply knotted past.”

“The Water Dancer” is available through MORE, Wisconsin’s digital library system.

No fees or commitments are required to join the Chetek Area Book Club. Please note the additions and corrections to the list of monthly selections for 2021: “Storied Life of AJ Fikry,” “The Inheritance of Loss,” “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” “Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague,” and “Bucking the Sun: A Novel.” If interested, call Debbie Skozek at 815-861-9141.

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