Straight to the Top Shelf of My Bookcase: Ray Harvey’s Reservation Trash
After reading Reservation Trash in one sitting, I spiked the book onto my bed and stalked around my room like a man about to step into a cage to fight. I wanted to tear my shirt off and run out to some mountaintop and stand up there howling down at the world that all the loaded dice in the world weren’t enough to hold me down you gutless sons-a-bitches!!!! You can’t beat me!!!
I didn’t do any of those things, but I wanted to. Kristy Reed, the hero of Reservations Trash, just brought the beast out of me. And to be clear, “Hero” is an apt word here.
Reed is no postmodern antihero or “central character” wandering aimlessly through a morally barren landscape. He’s got his flaws, but he is most definitely a hero in the traditional sense — brave, determined, strong, and noble. The book mercifully spares us the now-ubiquitous central character who is only heroic in the sense that he’s not quite as immoral, purposeless, and lazy as everyone else in the story.
Reed starts as a Navajo boy who leaves his reservation at a very young age to go experience the world. He’s an autodidact, hungry not only for visceral wisdom but also for the knowledge of books. Along the way, he develops a passion for running very long distances in wild places. That is the keystone of his character, and much of the story takes place in track meets and on distance runs.
I texted my brother this morning about this book this morning, telling him he had to read it. In doing so, it occurred to me that I should mention the political angle to the book — and now it occurs to me to do the same here.
Reservation Trash works great as a straight vision-quest story, but it’s also got a lot of politics in it — politics both from Reed’s mouth and from the author’s. This may be off-putting for some, and extra-tasty for others, depending on where they fall in the political spectrum and on their own tolerance for mixing politics and literature.
The most interesting, overtly political passage for me was Reed’s analysis of the U.S. reservation system. He expresses some very thought-provoking idea on how the system itself perpetuates Native American social problems, and how no amount of money will fix it. For me, it was just a generally good education, as I know basically nothing about the subject.
Harvey’s conclusions would probably be classified by most as libertarian solutions. This is one of the ballsiest things about the book. Harvey is no fool, and he had to know damn well that the literary world strongly favors Leftist politics. Yet, he spoke his truth, just as Reed speaks his.
The politics are really only the tip of the iceberg. Reed arrives at these thoughts only after a very long analysis of what the purpose of life is on an individual level. The political emerges from the existential. It’s a cerebral book, in addition to being a story full of action and personal triumph. It throws out all these challenges to the reader.
You don’t have to agree with the politics to admire the sense of conviction defines this book. It’s the exact same quality that makes Kristy Reed so compelling. In that way, the book and its hero are the same — they don’t back down and they don’t flinch.
They remind me of the great Baba O’Reilly lines, “Out here in the fields / I fight for my meals / I put my back into my living / I don’t need to fight / To prove I’m right / I don’t need to be forgiven.”
Every time I hear that song I have to restrain myself from kicking down my own door and running into the street pounding my chest and howling. That’s about how Reservation Trash made me feel, too.
If that’s your idea of a good time, then read the damn thing. You’ll be glad you did.