The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven
I love "Smoke Signals," which is based on this collection of short stories (primarily the story "This is What It Means To Say Phoenix, Arizona"), and I liked Sherman Alexie's young adult novel "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," which I had read for a Native American literature class back in college. However, it has taken me forever to read this short story collection, which I boiught back in my sophomore year of college, just because of the enormous backlog. But read it I did, and quite liked it too.
The stories in the collection are fairly interlinked, almost all taking place on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Eastern Washington or the surrounding area. The same characters reoccur, many of them men at the beginning of their long decline, which if Alexie is to be believed, seems to start right after they first taste alcohol.
A lot of the stories are semi-autobiographical, as Alexie admits in his introduction (by the way, if you're going to read this book, make sure to get the tenth anniversary edition, as it contains a wonderful introduction by Alexie as well as two stories he had initially cut from the book). This unfortunately means that a lot of his characters (Victor, Junior Polatkin, Jimmy Many Horses, etc.) can seem a bit "samey," as they are all essentially author avatars of Alexie himself. They all get drunk, reminisce about basketball, and have extremely complex relationships with both their fathers and male friends of the same age. It's an interesting character, but it's just a shame that there's not that much variety. Really, the only main male character that's significantly different from the others is the weird storyteller Thomas Builds The Fire, who won't shut up and so is shunned by most everyone else, who is a fascinating character in and of himself.
Just as many of the viewpoint characters are the same, a lot of the stories seem to have one of two themes: either how much being an Indian sucks, or the complicated relationship between fathers and sons and between male friends. Both are worthy and interesting (especially the second one, where Alexie shows the strange combination of unconditional love and contempt his characters have for their wonderful failures of fathers), but it does get a little bit tiring.
But it is the writing itself that is the reason to read Alexie. If you turn to any random page, I guarantee there will be at least one strange and beautiful simile that no one else could have thought of, as well as straightforward details that both completely demythologize a people often made into noble savages, while simultaneously showing their inner wonderousness. His Spokane Indians are dirt poor, deeply irresponsible, and afflicted with the scourges of diabetes, alcoholism, or both. And yet they are not pathetic figures, but somehow strangely heroic for being able to live their lives with a sense of humor for how ridiculous and undignified their lives are. It really is something to read.
I wholeheartedly support reading this collection, which has deepened my interest in Alexie's work.even though the stories can seem imilar, each one is an example of the Alexie magic. grab it it if you see it!