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It's a rich, panoramic portrayal of contemporary Seattle that uses the form of the mystery to tell some uncomfortable home truths about Indian-white relations, and indeed racism in all its forms. Alexie begins by focusing on the ironically named John Smith, who was either given up for adoption by, or stolen away from, his teenaged Indian mother. He is raised by loving and conscientious white "parents" and finds himself in traumatized adulthood "an Indian without a tribe," a misfit who belongs to no culture, wandering the streets among the city's homeless, seeking an outlet for the unfocused rage he knows he can no longer suppress. Is John Smith the "Indian killer" who stalks and murders white men, scalping them for good measure, terrorizing the city and provoking a rash of racially motivated violence? Alexie teases us with that possibility right up to the last page, meanwhile populating his exciting story with a host of keenly observed and rigorously analyzed characters. The most memorable include Marie Polatkin, a fiery Native American college student and activist with no use for sentimental white liberals; Jack Wilson, an ex-cop turned popular novelist, whose exploration (and exploitation) of a small trace of "Indian blood" in his ancestry infuriates his full-blooded "brothers"; and John Smith's adoptive parents, Olivia and Daniel, whose decency and good will are portrayed with fairness and respect. Alexie succeeds brilliantly at suggesting the time- bombticking character of John Smith's ravaged psyche, and the novel rips along at a breathless pace.
Both a splendidly constructed and wonderfully readable thriller—and a haunting, challenging articulation of the plight and the pride of contemporary Native Americans.
|Translated from the American||20|
|Morphine and Codeine||22|
|The Fausto Poems||24|
|November 22, 1983||30|
|When I Die||34|
|Dead Letter Office||36|
|At Navajo Monument Valley Tribal School||49|
|Indian Boy Love Songs||54|
|Reservation Love Song||58|
|Some Assembly Required||59|
|III||Crazy Horse Dreams|
|Father Coming Home||63|
|War All the Time||65|
|No Drugs or Alcohol Allowed||67|
|The Business of Fancydancing||69|
|Spokane Tribal Celebration, September 1987||74|
|Eugene Boyd Don't Drink Here Anymore||75|
|The Reservation Cab Driver||76|
Posted February 27, 2012
After reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian last summer, I decided to work my way through Alexie's oeuvre since I had already also read and enjoyed Reservation Blues. Two short story collections and one novel later, I was done. Not in that my task was completed but in that I couldn't take anymore. Then The Business of Fancydancing came into my possession after waiting about six months for it. Unwilling to let the book go after waiting so long for it, I decided to see what the first page was like. Ten hours later I had finished it.
The Business of Fancydancing: Stories and Poems is Alexie's first published work (from 1991). As the subtitle suggests, the book is considered a collection of stories and poems. However, since most of the stories are less than five pages I think a fair argument could be made that the five stories are actually prose poems instead of stories. That might just be me though.
Like any of Alexie's other writing, this collection includes instances of beauty as well as sadness. In the opening story "Travels" a hungry youth is told to make a jam sandwich by taking two slices of bread and jamming them together (unless a wish sandwich is more to his liking). This image recurs often in the collection.
After reading The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and The Toughest Indian in the World, I must admit I had my doubts about Alexie's short stories--they never seemed as engaging as his novels. That isn't a problem here even though all of the stories are much shorter than anything found in his later collections. Very like the poems, Alexie's stories here are bare bones. Instead of full stories (in the sense of having a conventional plot) most are vignettes painting brief, eloquent pictures of what life can mean for a Spokane Indian on and off the reservation.
The bulk of The Business of Fancydancing is comprised of poems. The English major in my wants to make some kind of comparison to illustrate what these poems are like, but no quick comparisons come to mind. Suffice it say, the lines are long and the poems deeply grounded in the concrete. One of my favorites in the collection is "Distances" which is literally a series of vignettes along with aphorisms like "Remember this: 'Electricity is lightning pretending to be permanent.'"
Familiar characters who turn up in one of Alexie's later story collections as well as Reservation Blues also make their first appearances here. Thomas Builds-The-Fire, a personal favorite, even has a story all to himself.
I don't know how illustrative this book is of Alexie's current style since his latest work has been novels, but that detail aside The Business of Fancydancing is a superb collection of poetry and serves as a good introduction to Sherman Alexie and his unique style/themes without the visceral, harsh details so often found in his newer writing.