The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heavenby Sherman Alexie
SHERMAN ALEXIE has been described as "one of the major lyric voices of our time" by the New York Times Book Review, which selected his The Business of Fancydancing as a "1992 Notable Book of the Year." Alexie's several books of poetry include Old Shirts & New Skins, The Summer of Black Widows, and the/i>/i>/i>/b>/b>
About the Author
SHERMAN ALEXIE has been described as "one of the major lyric voices of our time" by the New York Times Book Review, which selected his The Business of Fancydancing as a "1992 Notable Book of the Year." Alexie's several books of poetry include Old Shirts & New Skins, The Summer of Black Widows, and the recently published One Stick Song. Named one of "20 Writers for the 21st Century" by The New Yorker, Alexie competed in and won the World Heavyweight Championship Poetry Bout at the Taos Poetry Circus in 1998, 1999 and 2000, becoming the first poet in the history of the Bout to hold the title for three years.
Alexie's first screenplay, Smoke Signals, based on his book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, became the first feature film produced, written, and directed by American Indians. It premiered at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award and Filmmakers Trophy. In 1999 Smoke Signals received a Christopher Award, an award given for works of art "which affirm the highest values of the human spirit."
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, published in 1994, was a citation winner for the PEN/Hemmingway Award for Best First Fiction. Other works of fiction include Reservation Blues, selected as a Booklist Editor's Choice Award for Fiction; Indian Killer, a New York Times Notable Book and one of People magazine's "Best of Pages" choices; and his most recent short story collection, The Toughest Indian in The World, published by Atlantic Monthly press in May 2000.
Sherman Alexie is a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian from Wellpinit, Washington-a town on the Spokane Indian reservation. He currently resides in Seattle, WA, with his wife and son, and is working on new poems and stories.
The New York Times Book Review
World Literature Today
“Again and again, Alexie’s prose startles and dazzles with unexpected, impossible-to-anticipate moves. With this stunning collection, Sherman Alexie has become quite clearly an important new voice in American literature.” The Boston Globe
“Poetic [and] unremittingly honest . . . The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is for the American Indian what Richard Wright’s Native Son was for the black American in 1940.” The Chicago Tribune
“There is, to be sure, too much booze and too little hope on the reservation in Alexie’s work, but also resilient real peopleliving and loving, and, above all, laughing.” Seattle Post-Intelligence
“Alexie’s prose startles and dazzles.” The Boston Globe
“Poetic and unremittingly honest . . . The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is for the American Indian what Richard Wright’s Native Son was for the black American in 1940.” The Chicago Tribune
“Spare, disturbing stories . . . with stark, lyric power.” The New York Times Book Review
“Alexie blends an almost despairing social realism with jolting flashes of visionary fantasy and a quirky sense of gallows humor. In Sherman Alexie's voice we hear the voice of a people asking questions we cannot answer or avoid.” The Bloomsbury Review
“A compelling and impressive collection.” The Washington Times
“An impressive collection. . . . His tales include all the ingredients of contemporary American Indian life: humor, heartbreak, and humanity.” Willamette Week
“Stunning and compelling. Alexie is a visionary and by far the best writer I've seen published in recent years.” Talk of the Town (Washington)
“Extremely fine. . . . Alexie writes with simplicity and forthrightness, allowing the power in his stories to creep up slowly on the reader.” Publishers Weekly
“Lyrically beautiful and almost always very funny. Irony, grim humor, and forgiveness help characters transcend pain, anger and loss. The ability both to judsge and to love gives this book its searing yet affectionate honesty.” Kirkus Reviews
“Alexie writes with grit and lyricism that perfectly capture the absurdity of a proud, dignified people living in squalor, struggling to survive in a societ they disdain. Highly recommended.” Library Journal
“This collection of 22 short stories based on the Spokane Indian Reservation is often humorous and insightful. It views American Indian lives from a contemporary standpoint and addresses the issues facing reservation life today.” Diverse Issues in Higher Eduation
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Read an Excerpt
THE LONE RANGER AND
TONTO FISTFIGHT IN
Too hot to sleep so I walked down to the Third Avenue 7-11 for a Creamsicle and the company of a graveyard-shift cashier. I know that game. I worked graveyard for a Seattle 7-11 and got robbed once too often. The last time the bastard locked me in the cooler. He even took my money and basketball shoes.
The graveyard-shift worker in the Third Avenue 7-11 looked like they all do. Acne scars and a bad haircut, work pants that showed off his white socks, and those cheap black shoes that have no support. My arches still ache from my year at the Seattle 7-11.
"Hello," he asked when I walked into his store. "How you doing?"
I gave him a half-wave as I headed back to the freezer. He looked me over so he could describe me to the police later. I knew the look. One of my old girlfriends said I started to look at her that way, too. She left me not long after that. No, I left her and don't blame her for anything. That's how it happened. When one person starts to look at another like a criminal, then the love is over. It's logical.
"I don't trust you," she said to me. "You get too angry."
She was white and I lived with her in Seattle. Some nights we fought so bad that I would just get in my car and drive all night, only stop to fill up on gas. In fact, I worked the graveyard shift to spend as much time away from her as possible. But I learned all about Seattle that way, driving its back ways and dirty alleys.
Sometimes, though, I would forget where I was and get lost. I'd drive for hours, searching for something familiar. Seems like I'd spent my whole life that way, looking for anything I recognized. Once, I ended up in a nice residential neighborhood and somebody must have been worried because the police showed up and pulled me over.
"What are you doing out here?" the police officer asked me as he looked over my license and registration.
"Well, where are you supposed to be?" he asked me, and I knew there were plenty of places I wanted to be, but none where I was supposed to be.
"I got in a fight with my girlfriend," I said. "I was just driving around, blowing off steam, you know?"
"Well, you should be more careful where you drive," the officer said. "You're making people nervous. You don't fit the profile of the neighborhood."
I wanted to tell him that I didn't really fit the profile of the country but I knew it would just get me into trouble.
"Can I help you?" the 7-11 clerk asked me loudly, searching for some response that would reassure him that I wasn't an armed robber. He knew this dark skin and long, black hair of mine was dangerous. I had potential.
"Just getting a Creamsicle," I said after a long interval. It was a sick twist to pull on the guy, but it was late and I was bored. I grabbed my Creamsicle and walked back to the counter slowly, scanned the aisles for effect. I wanted to whistle low and menacingly but I never learned to whistle.
"Pretty hot out tonight?" he asked, that old rhetorical weather bullshit question designed to put us both at ease.
"Hot enough to make you go crazy," I said and smiled. He swallowed hard like a white man does in those situations. I looked him over. Same old green, red, and white 7-11 jacket and thick glasses. But he wasn't ugly, just misplaced and marked by loneliness. If he wasn't working there that night, he'd be at home alone, flipping through channels and wishing he could afford HBO or Showtime.
"Will this be all?" he asked me, in that company effort to make me do some impulse shopping. Like adding a clause onto a treaty. We'll take Washington and Oregon and you get six pine trees and a brand-new Chrysler Cordoba. I knew how to make and break promises.
"No," I said and paused. "Give me a Cherry Slushie, too."
"What size?" he asked, relieved.
"Large," I said, and he turned his back to me to make the drink. He realized his mistake but it was too late. He stiffened, ready for the gunshot or the blow behind the ear. When it didn't come, he turned back to me.
"I'm sorry," he said. "What size did you say?"
"Small," I said and changed the story.
"But I thought you said large."
"If you knew I wanted a large, then why did you ask me again?" I asked him and laughed. He looked at me, couldn't decide if I was giving him serious shit or just goofing. There was something about him I liked, even if it was three in the morning and he was white.
"Hey," I said. "Forget the Slushie. What I want to know is if you know all the words to the theme from 'The Brady Bunch'?"
He looked at me, confused at first, then laughed.
"Shit," he said. "I was hoping you weren't crazy. You were scaring me."
"Well, I'm going to get crazy if you don't know the words."
He laughed loudly then, told me to take the Creamsicle for free. He was the graveyard-shift manager and those little demonstrations of power tickled him. All seventy-five cents of it. I knew how much everything cost.
"Thanks," I said to him and walked out the door. I took my time walking home, let the heat of the night melt the Creamsicle all over my hand. At three in the morning I could act just as young as I wanted to act. There was no one around to ask me to grow up.
In Seattle, I broke lamps. She and I would argue and I'd break a lamp, just pick it up and throw it down. At first she'd buy replacement lamps, expensive and beautiful. But after a while she'd buy lamps from Goodwill or garage sales. Then she just gave up the idea entirely and we'd argue in the dark.
"You're just like your brother," she'd yell. "Drunk all the time and stupid."
"My brother don't drink that much."
She and I never tried to hurt each other physically. I did love her, after all, and she loved me. But those arguments were just as damaging as a fist. Words can be like that, you know? Whenever I get into arguments now, I remember her and I also remember Muhammad Ali. He knew the power of his fists but, more importantly, he knew the power of his words, too. Even though he only had an IQ of 80 or so, Ali was a genius. And she was a genius, too. She knew exactly what to say to cause me the most pain.
But don't get me wrong. I walked through that relationship with an executioner's hood. Or more appropriately, with war paint and sharp arrows. She was a kindergarten teacher and I continually insulted her for that.
"Hey, schoolmarm," I asked. "Did your kids teach you anything new today?"
And I always had crazy dreams. I always have had them, but it seemed they became nightmares more often in Seattle.
In one dream, she was a missionary's wife and I was a minor war chief. We fell in love and tried to keep it secret. But the missionary caught us fucking in the barn and shot me. As I lay dying, my tribe learned of the shooting and attacked the whites all across the reservation. I died and my soul drifted above the reservation.
Disembodied, I could see everything that was happening. Whites killing Indians and Indians killing whites. At first it was small, just my tribe and the few whites who lived there. But my dream grew, intensified. Other tribes arrived on horseback to continue the slaughter of whites, and the United States Cavalry rode into battle.
The most vivid image of that dream stays with me. Three mounted soldiers played polo with a dead Indian woman's head. When I first dreamed it, I thought it was just a product of my anger and imagination. But since then, I've read similar accounts of that kind of evil in the old West. Even more terrifying, though, is the fact that those kinds of brutal things are happening today in places like El Salvador.
All I know for sure, though, is that I woke from that dream in terror, packed up all my possessions, and left Seattle in the middle of the night.
"I love you," she said as I left her. "And don't ever come back."
I drove through the night, over the Cascades, down into the plains of central Washington, and back home to the Spokane Indian Reservation.
* * *
When I finished the Creamsicle that the 7-11 clerk gave me, I held the wooden stick up into the air and shouted out very loudly. A couple lights flashed on in windows and a police car cruised by me a few minutes later. I waved to the men in blue and they waved back accidentally. When I got home it was still too hot to sleep so I picked up a week-old newspaper from the floor and read.
There was another civil war, another terrorist bomb exploded, and one more plane crashed and all aboard were presumed dead. The crime rate was rising in every city with populations larger than 100,000, and a farmer in Iowa shot his banker after foreclosure on his 1,000 acres.
A kid from Spokane won the local spelling bee by spelling the word rhinoceros.
When I got back to the reservation, my family wasn't surprised to see me. They'd been expecting me back since the day I left for Seattle. There's an old Indian poet who said that Indians can reside in the city, but they can never live there. That's as close to truth as any of us can get.
Mostly I watched television. For weeks I flipped through channels, searched for answers in the game shows and soap operas. My mother would circle the want ads in red and hand the paper to me.
"What are you going to do with the rest of your life?" she asked.
"Don't know," I said, and normally, for almost any other Indian in the country, that would have been a perfectly fine answer. But I was special, a former college student, a smart kid. I was one of those Indians who was supposed to make it, to rise above the rest of the reservation like a fucking eagle or something. I was the new kind of warrior.
For a few months I didn't even look at the want ads my mother circled, just left the newspaper where she had set it down. After a while, though, I got tired of television and started to play basketball again. I'd been a good player in high school, nearly great, and almost played at the college I attended for a couple years. But I'd been too out of shape from drinking and sadness to ever be good again. Still, I liked the way the ball felt in my hands and the way my feet felt inside my shoes.
At first I just shot baskets by myself. It was selfish, and I also wanted to learn the game again before I played against anybody else. Since I had been good before and embarrassed fellow tribal members, I knew they would want to take revenge on me. Forget about the cowboys versus Indians business. The most intense competition on any reservation is Indians versus Indians.
But on the night I was ready to play for real, there was this white guy at the gym, playing with all the Indians.
"Who is that?" I asked Jimmy Seyler.
"He's the new BIA chief's kid."
"Can he play?"
And he could play. He played Indian ball, fast and loose, better than all the Indians there.
"How long's he been playing here?" I asked.
I stretched my muscles, and everybody watched me. All these Indians watched one of their old and dusty heroes. Even though I had played most of my ball at the white high school I went to, I was still all Indian, you know? I was Indian when it counted, and this BIA kid needed to be beaten by an Indian, any Indian.
I jumped into the game and played well for a little while. It felt good. I hit a few shots, grabbed a rebound or two, played enough defense to keep the other team honest. Then that white kid took over the game. He was too good. Later, he'd play college ball back East and would nearly make the Knicks team a couple years on. But we didn't know any of that would happen. We just knew he was better that day and every other day.
The next morning I woke up tired and hungry, so I grabbed the want ads, found a job I wanted, and drove to Spokane to get it. I've been working at the high school exchange program ever since, typing and answering phones. Sometimes I wonder if the people on the other end of the line know that I'm Indian and if their voices would change if they did know.
One day I picked up the phone and it was her, calling from Seattle.
"I got your number from your mom," she said. "I'm glad you're working."
"Yeah, nothing like a regular paycheck."
"Are you drinking?"
"No, I've been on the wagon for almost a year."
The connection was good. I could hear her breathing in the spaces between our words. How do you talk to the real person whose ghost has haunted you? How do you tell the difference between the two?
"Listen," I said. "I'm sorry for everything."
"What's going to happen to us?" I asked her and wished I had the answer for myself.
"I don't know," she said. "I want to change the world."
These days, living alone in Spokane, I wish I lived closer to the river, to the falls where ghosts of salmon jump. I wish I could sleep. I put down my paper or book and turn off all the lights, lie quietly in the dark. It may take hours, even years, for me to sleep again. There's nothing surprising or disappointing in that.
I know how all my dreams end anyway.
Meet the Author
Alexie is a poet, novelist, and screenwriter. He has won the Pen/Faulkner Award, Stranger Genius Award in Literature, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, and the Malamud Award.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Mr. Sherman weaves together inter connected stories about the plight of the Native Americans on one particular reservation in the state of Washington. The novel comprises wit and heart wenching testimony from characters like Victor and Thomas about growing up Indian and the poverty they faced. Even though the culture of Native Americans is often mentioned, this book is completley universal. It's at times a coming of age tale, at other points it's historical, and in a few instances, the reader sees magic. The prose is brillantly composed in a manner that will quickly engage the reader. If you love short stories, then you will love this. If you hate short stories, this will take some getting use to but you'll quickly see the payoff. Also, the last two stories included in the collection make the overall novel all the more poignant.
I feel a bit mixed about this book, which is a collection of 22 connected short stories, some in first and some in third person. The book was on a list of recommended literary fiction. Picking it up, I realized that though I've read many a book by African Americans, several assigned in school, I couldn't recall ever reading a work of fiction by a Native American about Native Americans. I found myself jotting down the unfamiliar or recurring words and themes, wanting to learn more later: frybread, salmon, commodity cheese, alcoholism, diabetes, sweathouse, longhouse, HUD, fancydancing, owldancing, basketball, powwow, tipi, braids, ribbon shirt, five hundred years. That glimpse into another world, the world of the Spokane Indian Reservation, is a lot of what kept me reading, but I wondered at times when Alexie was giving us a look behind the stereotypes or playing with them. Especially given the touches of magical realism, I found myself wishing at times this was straight memoir and not (as admitted in the introduction) autobiographically inspired fiction. This is a very bleak book--so much of it dealt with drunkenness and alcoholism and the self-destructive behavior it engenders, sprinkled with historical grievance and the experience of present-day bigotry and a terrible poverty. The most upbeat tale in the book revolved around a terminally ill cancer patient: "The Approximate Size of My Favorite Tumor." Two of the other standouts for me were "Fun House," about a women who finally has had it with the behavior of her husband and son, and "Indian Education." Here's a quote from that story that stuck with me: "The farm town high school I play for is nicknamed the "Indians," and I'm probably the only actual Indian ever to play for a team with such a mascot. This morning I pick up the sports page and read the headline: INDIANS LOSE AGAIN. Go ahead and tell me none of this is supposed to hurt me very much." I think that's a passage that captures a lot about the book. Clean, spare style, sometimes lyrical, spiked with a dark humor. I find myself dithering about the rating here. I don't know if it's a book that I can say I enjoyed, or one where the individual stories impressed--I think it's one where the whole is more than its parts, but the repeated (and repetitive) notes of hopelessness ground me down. However, the book did make me think and a time or two broke my heart a little, and I think it'll stay with me.
The impulse to soldier on is both ruthlessly crushed and highly encouraged on the Spokane reservation. Victor and Thomas represent the stark contrast between relentless destruction and toughened hopefulness of the human spirit. The struggle to hold onto some loose foothold in their past as they pursue their blank futures littered with broken dreams, alcohol, and introspective dreaming. Sherman Alexie¿s Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is both written as a literary novel, and interwoven poetry pounding to the beat of tribal drums and chorusing lines of `John Wayne¿s Teeth.¿ It is hard to tell when the author is being melodramatic, or when a joke, so dry and intensely real, has escaped my attention. It is hard to tell what is meant to be funny and what is meant to rent the soul. I found myself laughing when I should have been crying. Overall, there is no moment greater than Thomas¿s grandstand as the great storyteller of the reservation. Though his stories have been told a thousand times, he has now withdrawn from his silence and returned to his creative genius. He represents part of the character of the novelist in that he wishes to return to a broken, shifting past in order to escape the hypocrisy of his present. Victor represents the other side of the jaded coin. He is angry, thoughtless, and acts out because he feels lost within himself and his environment. He represents the inability of the Native Americans to feel at home in what should have been their country, and the toughness they must exhibit to make it bearable. The two opposing viewpoints are only supported by a slew of characters with which these vivid people are described. When I reflected on the book I was surprised by the sense of detachment I felt. The wicked humor of the writer in his highway weatherman, road trips to phoenix, and flatbread crisis was what made the book bearable when the characters were drowning in their own irony.
Alexie's characters are not just native, they are human. So few literary images of the Indian-(Feather, not dot)-Native-American-Indigineous-Person-Noble-Savage portray the depth of character and individuality he does so adeptly. You'll laugh, you'll cry and you may even UNDERSTAND. So what's so funny about peace, love and understanding? In this collection of stories you may find out.
This really brought me back home in some distubing yet amusing way. Nice change from the very hard to read reality books that I have read. Anyone that have lived on a rez can relate and laught, and truly understand the way of life on the rez with a twist that Alexie is portraying. It was a really fun read.
this book had funny and good metaphors and its just like me.
I loved reading this book. I admit I was skeptical at first when my teacher gave it to us to read. I think it was the title that made me feel that way, but once I started reading I got lost in the raw stories. I couldn't put it down! There's only one draw back; it can get a bit confusing because you never know who's speaking and each "chapter" is a new story. It will keep you entertained.
This is the first of Sherman Alexie¿s books that I¿ve read, and admittedly, it was the title that first drew my attention to this book. After all, who can resist at least leafing through a novel with a title like The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven? Reading the book, I was impressed by Alexie¿s writing style and how he mixes poetic sentences like ¿Tonight the mirror will forgive my face¿ with not-so-poetic phrases, such as, ¿ `Shit,¿ Samuel said. It was quickly his favorite word.¿ But what struck me the most about this novel was its characters. Every single person in this book is ordinary. In the world Alexie describes, there are no heroes, no great leaders, no charismatic protagonists. Everyone in these stories is flawed in some way, and these flaws usually are not overcome by the end of the story, as much as the reader would like to see the character triumph over his or her shortcomings. But that¿s what makes the characters real¿their many imperfections and mistakes. And, like real life, there is no happy ending to Alexie¿s novel. Life starts out a certain way in each story, and by the end, not much has changed. But there is a hope for change, buried somewhere beneath the lost dreams and beer bottles that litter the pages of the novel. And it¿s this concealed hope that makes Sherman Alexie¿s book such an incredible read.
This was the first book I read by Alexie and the first book on Native Americans, period. It's a hilarious short story collection about Indians and their struggle to survive in a world that has forgotten them. Alcoholism, broken marriages, abandoned kids, and a government that just doesn't care--these stories about reservation life are extremely funny but also heartbreaking. Alexie has a gift for finding humor in the absurd and sometimes hopeless situations in which Indians find themselves. Start with this collection, then move onto Reservation Blues, which has some of the same characters in it. Highly recommended.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a fresh collection of fond memories that swirl and eddy leaving traces of sunlight dancing lightly upon the page. This incredibly talented writer artfully rips away any protection you may have against the printed word, lays your heart bare, and leaves you wanting more. This book is a hauntingly stark look at life among friends and family with stories of characters who shamelessly flaunt their humanity on parade page after page with no regrets, plenty of laughs, and taking no prisoners except the reader's heart. Once you have read this book, you will want to read more of Sherman Alexie's work, and, fortunately, it is in abundance as he is a prolific author of the most contemporary persuasion. If there is one book that must be read, it is this one. You will find yourself laughing out loud, relating, and reading these stories again. This work is a crowning jewel of literary accomplishment. Sherman Alexie makes words sit up, roll over, and beg to be read. He has taught them tricks that will astound and amaze you.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a fresh collection of fond memories that swirl and eddy leaving traces of sunlight dancing lightly upon the page. This incredibly talented writer artfully rips away any protection you may have against the printed word, lays your heart bare, and leaves you wanting more. This book is a hauntingly stark look at life among friends and family with stories of characters who shamelessly flaunt their humanity on parade page after page with no regrets, plenty of laughs, and taking no prisoners except the reader¿s heart. Once you have read this book, you will want to read more of Sherman Alexie¿s work, and, fortunately, it is in abundance as he is a prolific author of the most contemporary persuasion. If there is one book that must be read, it is this one. You will find yourself laughing out loud, relating, and reading these stories again. This work is a crowning jewel of literary accomplishment. Sherman Alexie makes words sit up, roll over, and beg to be read. He has taught them tricks that will astound and amaze you.