by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
This coming month, our Unabridged Podcast Book Club selection is Michael Bennett's Better the Blood (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm). Every month on our Book Club episode, Ashley and I each choose a book that we think pairs well with that central book. For our June book club pick, I found myself having a hard time choosing just one—Better the Blood has so many layers, so many rich pathways to consider, that I thought I'd offer up a few more possible pairings. (If you're still reading Better the Blood, proceed carefully! I'll try to avoid spoilers, but I will be describing some moments in the plot.)
Chanel Miller’s Know My Name (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
Miller's powerful memoir is the first potential pairing I thought of because of the early subplot in which main character Hana, a police detective, is dealing with the aftermath of a horrible rape case in which the rapist's privilege plays a big part. There are so many parallels between Miller's story and the experiences and bravery of the young woman whose rape has such an effect on Hana. (This was also a Book Club pick—you can check out the episode here.)
Louise Erdrich’s The Round House (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
One of the most fascinating parts of Bennett's book is the consideration of the criminal justice system in New Zealand, the ways that it fails to address injustices against the Māori people and the way that Hana, who is Māori, struggles to make choices that are right for her and her commitment to her culture and heritage.
Erdrich's The Round House addresses similar themes in a North Dakota reservation. The novel centers on a brutal assault of a woman whose family seeks justice on her behalf, stymied by a system that allows its Ojibwe citizens to be victimized again and again. Though there are multiple differences between Erdrich's and Bennett's novels, their exploration of two indigenous communities nevertheless highlights some disturbing parallels.
David Grann's Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
While I think The Round House is a stronger pairing, this nonfiction book about a series of crimes nevertheless addresses some of the same themes and also offers a Native American agent who goes undercover, echoing Hana's inner conflict in Better the Blood. (I'm excited about Martin Scorsese's upcoming adaptation of this one!)
Screen Pick: Dark Winds
This excellent adaptation of a Tony Hillerman novel (which I haven't read!) is set in New Mexico, focusing on a series of crimes that spill over into a Navajo reservation, pulling in tribal police officers, including Joe Leaphorn, played by Zahn McClarnon, a favorite actor. Again, the examination of the conflicts between the tribal police officers and the FBI is illuminating.
Katherine Mansfield's "The Garden Party" (Bookshop.org - link to collection | Libro.fm)
I wanted to include some more fiction by New Zealand authors, but this is an area where I need to read more deeply. A favorite short story did, however, pop up. Mansfield's perspective is quite, quite different from Bennett's, but her short story "The Garden Party" nevertheless highlights class conflict and gives a sense of New Zealand society.
Screen Pick: 800 Words
As with Mansfield, this series is really, REALLY different from Better the Blood, but I loved the sense of modern New Zealand offered in this look at a tiny community populated by a group of quirky, endearing characters. After the death of his wife, George Turner moves his two children from their home in Australia to Weld. The title comes from George's weekly newspaper column, which features—always—exactly 800 words.
Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina’s The Things She’s Seen (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
This YA novel is set in Australia, not New Zealand, but the connection to the experiences of the Māori people in Better the Blood is clear. This novel in verse alternates between the perspectives of two Aboriginal teenagers, victims of horrific crimes seeking any justice available, even in the center of a culture that dismisses them.
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