Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
This "compulsively readable" short-story collection by best-selling author Alexie introduces the kind of American Indians who pay their bills, hold down jobs, and fall in and out of love. "Lyrical, moving, and thought-provoking - Alexie explores stereotypes and shows us Native Americans with humor, sobriety, and dignity." "Creative and offbeat, definitely worth reading." "After this, I'm starting my own Sherman Alexie book collection."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A prolific novelist, poet and screenplay writer, Alexie (Indian Killer; Reservation Blues) has been hailed as one of the best young writers of his generation. This dexterous second collection of stories contains what may be one of the best short fiction pieces of the year. "The Toughest Indian in the World" follows a young Spokane Indian who works at an all-white newspaper in Seattle and, in a forlorn attempt to reconnect with his roots, has his first homosexual experience with a tough Lummi fighter. It's a moving story that skillfully employs symbolism and flashbacks to construct an ending that is both uplifting and sorrowful. Many of the eight other stories in this collection also deal with urban Indians who are straddling two worlds: an intimate but indigent life on the reservation and an affluent but strange and sometimes hostile white middle-class existence. Their solutions to this double bind are rarely ordinary. "Assimilation" tells of a Coeur d'Alene woman who deliberately cheats on her white husband, only to rediscover her affection for him in the middle of a traffic jam. "Class" features a Spokane who sometimes tells white women he's Aztec, because "there were aphrodisiacal benefits from claiming to be descended from ritual cannibals." In "South by Southwest" a white man and a fat Indian nicknamed Salmon Boy, who declares he's not homosexual but does believe in love, set off on a nonviolent killing spree. Two tales, "Saint Junior" and "A Good Man," deal with marriage and death on the rez. The anger in these narratives is leavened by Alexie's acerbic wit and his obvious belief in the redemptive power of love. One exception, however, is "The Sin Eaters," an apocalyptic tale in which America's Indians are rounded up into massive underground prisons where soldiers force them to breed and give up their blood. Humorous, disturbing, formally inventive and heartwarming, Alexie's stories continually surprise, revealing him once again as a master of his craft. Agent, Nancy Cahoon, N. Stauffer Assoc. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
In nine short stories, Alexie, a Native American himself who is highly regarded among Native Americans, opens a contemporary world in which Indians and whites live in uneasy coexistence. The Indian characters in the stories, mostly who live in the environs of the Spokane Indian Reservation, may have university degrees and work as journalists or lawyers. Readers encounter Indians in the process of assimilation, holding to their traditions, congratulating themselves on successes, struggling to come to terms with racism, and grieving for cultural losses they find hard to define. Alexie's stories reveal the Indian love of sports, their family relationships, their struggle to excel, and their efforts to get an education and then understand the meaning of that education. Some wonder where their next meal is coming from or fight with uneven success against alcoholism. Some characters get into bed with hitchhikers and prostitutes or just another person for one-night stands or are forever faithful to their spouses, who may be of another race. Sample plots: a family argues about an upcoming homosexual marriage; a group of drum players, friends from childhood, sing traditional songs called 49s for some reason nobody remembers; an Indian reserves some part of himself from a scholar questioning him for a study; two men, one white, one Indian, trying to fall in love with each other, range the southwest on a "nonviolent killing spree"; a professional man with some university boxing experience engages a cagey street fighter; a tender man cares for his father during his final days. A surreal story called "The Sin Eaters" deals with the meaning and horrors of war. These are unexpected stories, blunt,coarse, sensitive, insightful, without rambling detail. Some pretty blunt sexual scenes make this book an unsuitable choice for many high school libraries, but for mature teens and adults who like confrontational, often acerbic, short stories that have quirky pacing and plenty of symbolism, and that probe beneath the surface, this is an excellent volume. KLIATT Codes: ARecommended for advanced students, and adults. 2000, Grove, Atlantic, 238p. 21cm. 99-086360., $12.00. Ages 17 to adult. Reviewer: Edna M. Boardman; Minot, ND , July 2001 (Vol. 35, No. 4)
Alexie may not be the toughest Indian in the world (in this stunning new collection, that honor goes to a Lummi fighter picked up by the narrator--or perhaps it's the durable narrator himself), but he definitely writes some of the toughest prose around. This work, Alexie's first collection since The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, offers nine stories rendered in muscular, unencumbered language that can deliver a shock like a good, hard punch. No, we shouldn't be much surprised when a character announces, "Indians just like to believe that white people will vanish, perhaps explode into smoke, if they are ignored enough times," but the delivery is so cool we are caught off guard. As the stories proceed from an Indian wife reconnecting with her husband after a calculated tryst to a lesbian couple (one Indian, one white) whose lives are complicated by a down-and-out male friend to an Indian father happy (is he really?) that his son has a good life with a white stepfather, Alexie moves in for the kill, consistently surprising us with stories that are neither sentimental nor angry but far more emotionally complex. Highly recommended.--Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
A mixed-bag collection of nine stories from the popular American (Spokane Coeur d'Alene) Indian author of such breakthrough successes as The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993) and Reservation Blues (1995). Alexie has been known to scorn the politically correct contemporary appellation "Native American," and this volume rather overindulges what appears to be its author's sardonic reaction to his own celebrity and perceived exoticism ("Strangely enough," observes the Sherman Alexie-like narrator of the bitterly funny "Class," "there were aphrodisiacal benefits from claiming to be descended from ritual cannibals"). A few of these tales feel like understandably unpublished early work ("South by Southwest," a flagrantly manic farce that laboriously satirizes white liberal guilt, and "Indian Country," about a successful writer's cultural and sexual alienation, are especially suspect). Even at his best, Alexie doesn't construct; he riffs: to splendid effect in "The Sin Eaters," a rich fantasy of ethnic conflict, incest, and genocide laden with vivid literary and biblical allusions and eye-popping metaphors ("They're going to take the tomorrow out of our bones"); "Dear John Wayne," a cultural anthropologist's interview with the aged Indian woman who claims she was the eponymous screen star's lover (during the filming of The Searchers); and "Saint Junior," a mischievous lampooning of affirmative-action programs. Alexie digs still deeper in rock-hard portrayals of a volatile "mixed" married couple ("Assimilation"); a son preparing tobidhis dying father farewell ("One Good Man"); and the surprise-filled title story, about an Indian intellectual who has strayed uncomfortably away from his origins, and is reconnected with them after he picks up a menacing hitchhiker. Alexie knows he's contemporary literature's "Indian du jour" (a phrase he has often used), and isn't quite sure how he feels about it. That ambivalence gives his writing a salutary charge of energy, making him one of our most challenging, interesting, and promising young writers.(First printing of $75,000; $150,000 ad/promo; author tour)
Read an Excerpt
From "The Sin Eaters"
I dreamed about war on the night before the war began, and though nobody officially called it a war until years later, I woke that next morning with the sure knowledge that the war, or whatever they wanted to call it, was about to begin and that I would be a soldier in a small shirt.
On that morning, the sun rose and bloomed like blood in a glass syringe. The entire Spokane Indian Reservation and all of its people and places were clean and scrubbed. The Spokane River rose up from its bed like a man who had been healed and joyously wept all the way down to its confluence with the Columbia River. There was water everywhere: a thousand streams interrupted by makeshift waterfalls; small ponds hidden beneath a mask of thick fronds and anonymous blossoms; blankets of dew draped over the shoulders of isolated knolls. An entire civilization of insects lived in the mud puddle formed by one truck tire and a recent rainstorm. The blades of grass, the narrow pine needles, and the stalks of roadside wheat were as sharp and bright as surgical tools.