- One Good Story, That One by Thomas King
Over twenty years ago, Thomas King wrote one good story. Then he wrote another. And another. Those stories multiplied. Pretty soon there were ten good stories. Those ten good stories were collected together and published as a book. And it’s one good book, this one.
This collection of stories is smart, witty, and creatively critical. Originally published in 1993, One Good Story, That One is finally available again, and it delights both the mind and the heart. King grapples with everything from colonial history to Judeo-Christian tradition to tribal sovereignty by telling stories. In the hands of a storyteller as skilled as King, these stories have enormous power to transform old clichés into dynamic and complex portrayals of American Indians. At one point in “A Coyote Columbus Story,” Coyote asks who found America and the Indians if it wasn’t Columbus, to which the narrator responds, “Those things were never lost. … Those things were always here. Those things are still here today” (129). This collection celebrates this vibrant presence on every page.
One Good Story, That One is a collection of ten distinct and diverse stories, each of which tackles contemporary issues of significance to American Indian communities. For instance, “Totem” is a story about stubborn totem poles that appear in a museum and proceed to chuckle, grunt, shout, sing, and otherwise disrupt the visitors and other exhibits. Through its comical tone, this story playfully but critically confronts the ethics of cultural representation in museums. However, not all of King’s stories are overtly humorous. “Borders” tells the story of a woman and her son as they attempt to travel from Canada to the United States. The two of them fall into a legislative loophole when they declare Blackfoot citizenship, resulting in a lengthy stay in the no-man’s-land between the Canadian and US borders. This is one of King’s more serious stories, and [End Page 74] it explores tribal sovereignty in relation to immigration and identity. While King covers a wonderfully broad range of topics and storytelling styles in this book, several consistent qualities unite the collection. Perhaps the most prominent unifying feature of these stories is King’s trademark humor, through which King critiques prevalent stereotypes, narratives, and tropes.
The Coyote stories in One Good Story are excellent examples of the way King’s humor invites readers to discover a different set of truths and possibilities alongside Coyote as this lovable trickster figure dismantles and reassembles historical narratives that are often portrayed as indisputable fact. In the Coyote story called “How Corporal Colin Sterling Saved Blossom, Alberta, and Most of the Rest of the World as Well,” King engages with the science fiction genre to illustrate how bizarre certain aspects of our own world really are. In this story, all the Indians in North and South America (and the rest of the world) suddenly go into a state of paralysis and are encased in impenetrable iridescent shells. Various government groups round them up and put them into storage until, eventually, space ships flown by blue coyotes swoop in to load up the petrified Indians and take them away. The story ends inconclusively with the information that one of the petrified Indians was singing, “What took you so long?” The irony in Corporal Sterling’s final line, “I just wish I could have saved the Indians, too” (65), recalls the long and brutal history of settler-colonists trying to “save” Indians, complementing the inversion of sci-fi tropes with its inversion of historical tropes.
In addition to playing with form, King is particularly adept at turning myths and misconceptions on their heads. In “A Seat in the Garden” he uses popular culture to reimagine Judeo-Christian tales and undermine contemporary stereotypes. This story takes place in Joe Hovaugh’s garden (a thinly veiled reference to the Garden of Eden), but Joe Hovaugh is plagued by a vision. There’s a “big Indian” in his garden who embodies just about every Hollywood...