Nobody wants to buy a Vision Quest from a Jesse Turnblatt
May 20, 2018 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Vision Quest is the one the Tourists choose the most. That certainly makes your workday easy. All a Vision Quest requires is a dash of mystical shaman, a spirit animal (wolf usually, but birds of prey are on the upswing this year), and the approximation of a peyote experience. Tourists always come out of the Experience feeling spiritually transformed. (You’ve never actually tried peyote, but you did smoke your share of weed during that one year at Arizona State, and who’s going to call you on the difference?) It’s all 101 stuff, really, these Quests. But no other Indian working at Sedona Sweats can do it better. Your sales numbers are tops.
Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™ , a short story by Rebecca Roanhorse.
posted by Rumple (48 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
 
This story won the Nebula Award for Best Short Story of 2017 at the Science Fiction Writers of America annual convention yesterday.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:32 PM on May 20 [8 favorites]


Oh that's cool, didn't realize that. Probably how it floated into my consciousness today.....
posted by Rumple at 1:47 PM on May 20


I believe Rebecca Roanhorse is up for this year's Campbell Award for new(ly published) writers as well!

It made me smile to see, when I clicked through to her author website, that the most recent blog entry/update read "This coming weekend I’ll be in Pittsburgh, PA at the Nebulas crossing my fingers for 'Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience(TM)'…"
posted by inconstant at 1:55 PM on May 20 [2 favorites]


Also Hugo nominated. Really good stuff.
posted by Artw at 2:49 PM on May 20


Ouch.
posted by Devils Rancher at 3:19 PM on May 20


This was sooooo goooood
posted by gusandrews at 3:50 PM on May 20


Well, I'm sorry to do this but I don't get the ending at all. Is there a way someone could lend me their perspective without spoiling it for others?
posted by dbx at 4:24 PM on May 20 [2 favorites]


I don’t know how I feel about this one, honestly.
posted by corb at 4:37 PM on May 20


Huh. I liked that. Poor Jesse: does he even exist at all?
posted by suelac at 4:49 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


Well, I'm sorry to do this but I don't get the ending at all. Is there a way someone could lend me their perspective without spoiling it for others?


It's about how marginalized people's identity gets swallowed up and subsumed by newcomers who see it as commodity to be exploited.
posted by signal at 5:18 PM on May 20 [27 favorites]


So so good, thanks for posting. Will look forward to this writer's upcoming work.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 5:40 PM on May 20


So, to clarify, I'm not asking about the piece as a whole, just literally the ending.
posted by dbx at 7:17 PM on May 20


dbx: this question might help - who is the "you" of the tale, who is experiencing someone else's reality?
posted by idiopath at 7:24 PM on May 20 [6 favorites]


Yep, that's what I needed. Thanks idiopath!
posted by dbx at 8:50 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


I did not like this. There's no science fiction and it is just so obvious?
posted by durandal at 12:31 AM on May 21


Completely immersive, fully realistic virtual reality that probably involves some kind of direct system-to-brain contact because it may be able to make you entirely forget who you actually are in real life isn't science fiction?
posted by kyrademon at 3:07 AM on May 21 [13 favorites]


I do not have much more to add here than thank you very much for posting this. Sat struggling at a desk in London on a Monday morning and this briefly took me totally out of myself. Put me in mind of the writing for Black Mirror and Inside No 9, along with trace elements of Nikolai Gogol. A beautiful light touch deftly applied here resulting in something powerful. Hats off to Rebecca Roanhorse.
posted by numberstation at 5:40 AM on May 21


Incidentally, Rebecca Roanhorse's debut novel, Trail of Lightning, will be coming out in June.
posted by kyrademon at 5:44 AM on May 21 [2 favorites]


That is good writing. Thanks for posting.
posted by Malingering Hector at 6:17 AM on May 21


Before it got to the VR part, I could have sworn that I read this George Saunders story before (but with way fewer capital letters and trademark symbols.)
posted by 41swans at 7:16 AM on May 21


Second-person narrative is hard to pull off well. This should be a textbook example of how to absolutely hit one out of the park.
posted by tclark at 7:59 AM on May 21


Completely immersive, fully realistic virtual reality that probably involves some kind of direct system-to-brain contact because it may be able to make you entirely forget who you actually are in real life isn't science fiction?

The reader only gets to infer that if you read the ending in a certain way. I would argue that the VR technology doesn't inform the story, and, therefore, it doesn’t really count as science fiction to me. It’s also too rooted in the present. What about the characters / world changed because of VR? Nothing substantial, it would seem. You could swap the VR with giving guided tours of the ruins of Pueblo Bonito and it would be the same overall story.

The strongest genre related feeling I get when reading it is one of magical realism, since the rule established is that characters will forget you for no reason (the reason is perhaps because the story is one of simulations within simulations, or dreams within dreams — but it isn’t definitive one way or another). That's dream-like and reality-breaking, but it's not science fiction.

The story works internally as a retelling of the history of indigenous people in America, but it is extremely on the nose. There is nothing left for the reader once they realize that the main character is the embodiment of the story of indigenous Americans and that, consequently, none of the characters are real characters. Not every story needs to be super engaging or thought provoking, or say more than one thing, but I thought a lot of the other stories on the list accomplished more.

It seems like I hit something of a nerve here, but I’m still not sure what everyone else is seeing when they read this. I got the jolt of recognition (Oh! This is the story of indigenous Americans!) but what else is there?
posted by durandal at 8:52 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


The story works internally as a retelling of the history of indigenous people in America, but it is extremely on the nose. There is nothing left for the reader once they realize that the main character is the embodiment of the story of indigenous Americans and that, consequently, none of the characters are real characters.

....and?

It seems like I hit something of a nerve here, but I’m still not sure what everyone else is seeing when they read this. I got the jolt of recognition (Oh! This is the story of indigenous Americans!) but what else is there?

Does there have to be anything else? (I can't expound on my position without spoiling the ending, may i do so?)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:11 AM on May 21 [2 favorites]


durandal, sometimes the twist works for you and sometimes it doesn't. It's like one of those magic-eye things. Just let people like it if they like it. There are a lot of highly-decorated short stories and novels that just aren't my bag, either.

I did like this one though. I think the key to whether or not you like it is when in the story your brain figures out what's going on. Too soon and it seems overdone, too late and you're left wondering what the point was.
posted by domo at 9:24 AM on May 21


durandal, sometimes the twist works for you and sometimes it doesn't. It's like one of those magic-eye things. Just let people like it if they like it. There are a lot of highly-decorated short stories and novels that just aren't my bag, either.

I don't mind people liking it but I was hoping to discuss it.
posted by durandal at 10:33 AM on May 21


In that case there are probably better discussion starters than "I don't like it, it's not even sci fi", especially given the recent cultural history of "it's not even sci fi".
posted by inconstant at 10:38 AM on May 21 [6 favorites]


I'd like to ask about my interpretation of this story, but I can't do so in the open thread without giving away spoilers. Can I direct message one of you to ask? Maybe you, idiopath?
posted by tom_r at 11:29 AM on May 21


It's the New Wave all over again!

(I mean that as a metacommentary on the thread, not a jab at the story. I don't hold "on-the-noseness" too much against SF stories becuase... when have they not been?)
posted by atoxyl at 11:33 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]




This is a thread about a short story. It's pretty short! The thread is entirely about that story. I think it's really silly to keep avoiding spoilers in a thread entirely about a story because it's preventing us from talking about the story at all. If you don't want spoilers, read the story, it won't take that long. If you have a question or want to discuss the story, please do so, don't take the interesting literary conversations to MeMail. I would like to read people's questions and answers and thoughts about the story itself!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:52 AM on May 21 [12 favorites]


I don't think I've been left so unsettled by SFF since my encounter with The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich back in Jr. High -- and with that final twist and reinsertion, Roanhorse made it feel like being trapped in a Klein bottle.
posted by jamjam at 11:53 AM on May 21


SPOILERS - the ending of s a tiny bit vague and open ended in a way that invites rethinking what you just read, but I suspect at the end of the day an element of ambiguity is intentional and I don’t think nailing it down in some hyper specific way really would help it. We all pretty much get where it’s going.
posted by Artw at 11:58 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Mrs. Pterodactyl: don't take the interesting literary conversations to MeMail

OK, will do. But just in case:
SPOILER ALERT -- don't read this comment any further if you don't want parts of the story to be given away.

Alright, with that out of the way, I agree with Artw that the ambiguity is probably intentional. That said, I can come up with two interpretations, and I'm interested to hear whether people think they both make sense, and if anyone prefers one over the other.

INTERPRETATION 1:
The entire story occurs within a virtual reality experience. Basically the "dream within a dream" interpretation. In this reading, "you" refers to the reader, and as soon as you start reading, you're already in an Experience, playing Jesse Turnblatt, although you don't realize that yet. At the end of the story, the virtual reality experience ends. In this interpretation, "you", the reader, wanted an "authentic Indian" experience. And you got it, but it wasn't what you expected. Instead, you experienced the life of a real, modern day Native American: wife, house, mortgage, and a shitty, demeaning job where you pretend to be a stereotypical "movie Indian" to entertain tourists.

INTERPRETATION 2:
Both Jesse and White Wolf are real, actual people. Jesse is a Native American living near Sedona with a wife, house, mortgage, and a shitty, demeaning job where he pretends to be a stereotypical "movie Indian" to entertain tourists. White Wolf is a white tourist who is one of Jesse's clients. Maybe he's 1/64th Cherokee, maybe not, but for all intents and purposes, he's a white guy. In real life, White Wolf befriends Jesse, gains his trust, and gets him to share a lot of personal information. White Wolf then uses this information to seduce Jesse's wife, steal his job, and force him out of his own home. And finally, he gaslights Jesse into thinking he somehow deserved it.

The thing that's interesting to me about these dueling interpretations is that the roles reverse depending on which one you choose. In interpretation 1, the person playing Jesse ("you", the reader) is the tourist, and the real person playing White Wolf (in the Experience that is the whole story) is the host selling you that Experience. In real life, the person playing White Wolf might be a Native American, but I don't think you have to interpret it that way. It could be anyone, teaching "you", the reader, a lesson.

In interpretation 2, Jesse is the Native American, who is exploited by White Wolf, the white guy who possibly has a trace of Native American heritage. Since Jesse is presented as "you", the reader, you vicariously experience this exploitation. The fact that "White Wolf" is an alias for a person whose real name is unknown is a nice touch as well.

Do both of these interpretations work? Or is one (or both) flawed? Who do you sympathize with? Jesse? Or White Wolf? Does it matter?
posted by tom_r at 1:22 PM on May 21 [7 favorites]


It reminded me of We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Not in a derogatory way, as PKD is one of my favorite authors, but in the same philosophical playing with reality. Which of our perceptions are real? How can you prove that, if you posit the possibility of full immersion, or in PKD's case, implanted memories.

Who am I? How can I prove the concept of "me" have long been questions in philosophy and literature, and to that, Ms. Roanhorse has added "what do I lose by cultural appropriation?" Can everything that is "me" get sucked out, transformed, and used against me? The "You" of the story, is used, marginalized, totemized, disneyfied, thrown away, and replaced by a white imposter. Welcome to your authentic Indian experience.

It's fucking genius.

Also, second person is so hard to do right. So hard.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 1:25 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


My initial assumption was that they were both real people and White Wolf basically took over Jesse's reality and forced him out until he no longer existed but the point signal made about the commodification of authentic experiences made me think it might be tom_r's first possibility, that the reader is having the Experience of being an Indian. I also wouldn't assume that it's different from what the theoretical purchaser of the Experience wanted. Perhaps the metapurchaser/second person feels a sense of ennui and wanted to feel real struggles like they assume Native Americans feel on the assumption that it would give them a sense of purpose and this is exactly what they signed up for.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:31 PM on May 21


Tom_r's "Interpretation 1" is what I ultimately took away from it, but I didn't come to that conclusion until the very end. Up to that point I had been leaning more towards Interpretation 2.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:33 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


I don't interpret fiction and usually take it at face value. I don't assume there's any 'reality' waiting to be revealed, so I don't see the point in the question about what 'really happened', because what really happened is what's in the text.
Same for movies, tv shows, etc. For instance, for me what "really" happens at the end of The Sopranos is that Tony is in a diner and then it goes to black and the series ends. And what happens at the end of Lost in Translation is that Bill Murray's character whispers something into Scarlett Johansson's ear and you can't hear what it is.
This extends also to things like 'the dress', which I see as being a collection of pixels having purplish light blue and light brown colors and have no idea or interest in what the 'real colors' are, or 'Yanni / Laurel' , which is to me an audio file with both words superimposed.
I understand that people have fun arguing about these things, but I seem to lack an enzyme or something that would allow me to participate. I think I have some sort of curiosity/fantasy deficiency.
posted by signal at 2:22 PM on May 21


On another note, the story reminds me of Cortazar's Lejana.
posted by signal at 2:23 PM on May 21


I loved this story, ending really caught me off guard, I wasn't sure where the story was going and that was a great way to do it.

"I don't interpret fiction and usually take it at face value."

Seems like a bad approach, almost antithetical to the entire notion of fiction.

"I think I have some sort of curiosity/fantasy deficiency."

How do you fare with videogames, the lack of imagination/foresight/extrapolation/whatever seems like they'd become next to impossible to continue to play.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:57 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


At the end of the story, I'm left wondering about the world the story inhabits, but it's all just speculation - this could even be a dream. The story seems to want us to interpret this as a virtual reality experience that has been experienced by the narrator's subject (you), but, again, I'm not sure what it's trying to say with it's structure to enhance the main point of the story.

I've read that switch and seen that switch in film and literature before and I don't think this story adds anything to those stories or this type of story, or that the switch adds anything to this story in particular. Jesse Turnblatt, whether he is a fictional VR construct or an actual human trapped in a magical realist reality, still experiences the same arc in the story, and the end doesn't change that.
posted by durandal at 3:01 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Oh thank god, I didn’t know how to discuss this without spoilers and I’m glad we are doing it now.

I think what bothers me about the story is it feels like there are other stories that the story will get into, but then doesn’t. White Wolf seems mysterious, like what is his motivation? Why does he want to steal Jesse’s life? And if this is happening in real life, how is White Wolf successfully stealing the life in real life? Is he magic? How is he getting more tan? And if it’s all happening in virtual reality, how is it even happening in virtual reality? How much of Jesse’s life is virtual reality?

The story maybe makes sense if you’re thinking This Is A Story About Cultural Appropriation, because you know how that works, but it doesn’t make sense within the story itself where the mechanics are utterly unexplained. I don’t really see the interpretation of you yourself being the VR person living Jesse’s life - like it seems like a good idea but I don’t get the execution, it doesn’t seem to resolve the issues mentioned above. .

There’s some great stuff I really love though - the recursive sense of having to watch movies to see what people are thinking about the “authentic experience” so you can present it that way. It reminds me of when I was in college taking Native American Studies and this one guy just taking it to fill requirements was indignant that nobody lived in teepees, like he seriously thought it was a fraud that modern Native Americans lived in houses and trailers and such.
posted by corb at 3:10 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Thanks, tom_r for posting both those interpretations! #1 didn't occur to me. At the end, I thought that perhaps there was a third:

INTERPRETATION 3:
Both Jesse and White Wolf are real, actual people. White Wolf is a Native American living near Sedona with a wife, house, mortgage, and a shitty, demeaning job where he pretends to be a stereotypical "movie Indian" to entertain tourists. Jesse is a white tourist who is one of White Wolf's clients. In the virtual reality experience Jesse signs up for, he manages to convince himself that he is this authentic Native American, shitty job and all. At the end of the story, the game is up, "reality" has restored itself, just as Jesse's time expires in his experience.

Now that I've seen interpretation 1, I actually like it better. How plausible is my reading above? Am I the only one who read the story that way?
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 3:55 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


I didn't love this. I mean, it's well-written and everything, but it reminded me too much of a knock-off version of All About Eve.
posted by basalganglia at 4:01 PM on May 21


So You're Saying These Are Pants? -- That interpretation didn't occur to me, but I certainly don't see anything "wrong" with it. I think it's a plausible reading of the story. That's one of the things I like about this piece -- it can be read in a number of different ways.

I wanted to say a little more about my two interpretations. Clearly one of the themes of the story is white exploitation of Native Americans. Above I said that in interpretation 1 (the whole story is a virtual reality experience), you don't have to assume anything about the races of the real life people playing Jesse and White Wolf in the Experience. But for the moment, let's assume that Jesse is played by a white guy who wanted an "authentic Indian" experience, and White Wolf is played by a Native American who gives Jesse an authentic experience, albeit not what he was expecting. For interpretation 2, let's take it at face value, and assume that Jesse is a Native American, and White Wolf is a white tourist.

Based on these readings, each character, Jesse and White Wolf, can be either white or Native American, depending on the interpretation. Pretty interesting.

But the coup de grace is the use of the second person narrative (which is quite tough to pull off, as several folks have noted). In both interpretations, "you" the reader are Jesse. But depending on which interpretation you choose, you can experience the story as either the exploiter OR the exploited. That to me is fascinating.
posted by tom_r at 4:45 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


My tentative take is that White Wolf has paid to impose an "authentic Indian experience", but who would pay for a rather dull real-world experience? Or maybe spite is really that much fun.

Now that I think about it, I'm a little surprised there aren't games about social engineering, but maybe I just haven't heard of them.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 5:52 PM on May 21


I like this but I present take 3: Jesse is a tourist, paying for an Authentic Indian Experience which is not just playing a role that never existed so that that white people can assimilate your culture. It is not just questioning your identity and wondering what your role is. No. Part of the Authentic Indian Experience is even having what identity you can carve out as someone getting by selling out as an Authentic Indian taken from you, sold as a package to a tourist looking even the more authentic Authentic Indian Experience, and so it will be infinitum.
posted by aspo at 6:41 PM on May 21


In Navajo, another word for "wolf" is "mai-coh," meaning witch. The Navajo fear of wolves derives not from the nature of the animal but rather from the potential for monstrous behavior from humans. Both the Navajo and the Hopi believe that human witches use or possibly abuse the wolf's powers to influence other people. While Europeans warned of a wolf in sheep's clothing, some Native American tribal beliefs cautioned against a human in wolf's clothing. Literally, the Navajo wolf, or witch, can also be referred to as a skinwalker. Not all Navajo witches are skinwalkers, but all skinwalkers are witches
So White Wolf can be seen as a witch, and his behavior is fairly typical for Navajo witches, right down to replacing a victim.

Note that my link goes to a Tony Hillerman Portal page; Hillerman was a white writer who came to the Southwest, appropriated Navajo culture, and wrote a number of bestselling novels from the points of view of members of that culture, thereby overshadowing and replacing actual native writers. I'd be surprised if Roanhorse did not intend White Wolf to be a direct allusion to Tony Hillerman.
posted by jamjam at 7:34 PM on May 21 [7 favorites]


That sounds on point jamjam. All the references to movies, or actors, are white actors in movies about Native Americans. The Authentic Indian Experience™ is the overall story, not the virtual reality "trip" being sold.
posted by P.o.B. at 10:39 AM on May 22


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