Publisher: HarperPerennial (1994)
“In this darkly comic short story collection, Sherman Alexie, a Spokane/Coeur d/Alene Indian, brilliantly weaves memory, fantasy, and stark realism to paint a complex, grimly ironic portrait of life in and around the Spokane Indian Reservation. These twenty-two interlinked tales are narrated by characters raised on humiliation and government-issue cheese, and yet are filled with passion and affection, myth, and dream. There is Victor, who as a nine-year-old crawled between his unconscious parents hoping that the alcohol seeping through their skins might help him sleep, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, who tells his stories long after people stop listening, and Jimmy Many Horses, dying of cancer, who writes letters on stationery that reads, ‘From the Death Bed of James many Horses III,’ even though he actually writes them from his kitchen table. Against a backdrop of alcohol, car accidents, laughter and basketball, Alexie depicts the distances between Indians and whites, reservation Indians and urban Indians, men and women, and most poetically, between modern Indians and the traditions of the past.” – from the back cover of my paperback 1994 edition
I acquired this short story collection when I was the ripe age of seventeen while enrolled in an English class at Syracuse University for a summer session. Unfortunately, I wasn’t interested in the class and didn’t even open the book at the time. Now, in my late twenties, ready and attentive to ingesting any kind of writing I can get my hands on, I devoured this collection. I was blown away. At seventeen, there’s no way I could’ve appreciated the moments and emotion Alexie poured into this collection and no way I could’ve appreciated the symbolism used in these stories.
I probably say this about every book that leaves an impression on me but, I’d love to write like Alexie. Obviously, not like him but to have the ability and skill to make his world relevant, important, and touching to the outside world. I’m sure he may know some of these people or can imagine what these people are like that made me want to dig into my own past and neighborhood.
One of my favorite stories was “Because My Father Always Said He was the Only Indian Who Saw Jimi Hendrix Play ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ at Woodstock.” The story follows Victor (some stories follow him and some don’t) and his relationship to his alcoholic father, and Jimi Hendrix. There was a moment in this story that made me think of any child with an alcoholic parent and its effect on the family. Alexie captured alcoholism not as the main issue but in the background even though it was an issue; his subtly made the story stay with you because of its execution and manner alcoholism was handled.
The same is said with all the themes Alexie plays with in this collection; his prose was poetic, sad, subtle, sweet, nostalgic, and beautiful.
Absolutely moving and written expertly, Alexie knows how to capture and satisfy a reader’s attention effortlessly. This short story collection is an excellent selection for any reader looking for a new work of fiction to read.