Sunday, January 20, 2013

Musings: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
I was going to try to come up with a new, witty title for this post (has anyone even noticed that I am trying that out?), but then realized that the title itself is so witty that there's really no point in me trying to one-up it.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a collection of short stories by Sherman Alexie about life on a reservation near Spokane, Washington.  It's semi-autobiographical, and many of the characters are recurring throughout the stories, though others are more stand-alone.  Throughout the whole collection, a disenchantment with the United States (understandably) is present, as is alcoholism, basketball, and hopelessness - this belief that while the Indians will survive, like they always do, they are surviving at a declining rate.

While reading through Kari's wonderful review of this book (you go read it, too!), I was struck by her comment about one of the first books about Native Americans she remembers reading:
it sparked in me a curiosity of these cultures that are spoken of so predominantly in terms of the past and not the present.
YES.  I think that is one thing that has struck me so much as I've read more deeply into Native American literature in the past few years - they are so marginalized and often forgotten, but they are still here.  And they have some amazing voices to bring their plights and their problems and their triumphs to mind - Sherman Alexie, Thomas King, Louise Erdrich.  I know there are more, too, I just need to find them.

I have been a fangirl of Sherman Alexie's since I read his book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  Then I read Flight and while I didn't love it quite as much, I still really enjoyed it.  Now I've read this short story collection.  And while I again can't say that I loved it quite as much as Part-Time Indian, I can absolutely see why this is the collection that catapulted Alexie to fame and glory and the middle-class.

But it's not a happy collection.  It's interesting as this is a collection of stories that Alexie wrote earlier in life, and his later books seem to be more optimistic and hopeful than this one does.  In Part-Time Indian and Flight, both focused on teenage boys, the message is about overcoming obstacles and trying to make it to a better life - a story that I think probably describes Alexie's life pretty well.  In this collection, you see all the horrible effects of long-term alcoholism, unemployment, and bad health care, with very little to uplift you along the way.

But many of the stories are still beautiful.  I especially enjoyed the one about a man going with his cousin to collect his father's ashes.  And the one about the man dying from cancer talking about how he met his wife.  And while it broke my heart, I enjoyed the one about the star basketball player who just wasn't able to rise above his environment, and about the 20-year-old who saved a baby's life and then took care of him for the rest of his life.

I didn't love all these stories, I admit.  But the ones I did love made the whole collection worthwhile.

21 comments:

  1. After I read the Absolutely True Diary, I wanted to read EVERYTHING he wrote, so I checked out most of his books from the library. And everything I started was so depressing I quit it. Not that it wasn't good, but I couldn't take the despair and anger I felt and the depression and hopelessness he conveyed. Of course, this speaks not only to his ability but to my thin skin!

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    1. I agree with you completely. He seems to have gotten more upbeat as he grows as a writer, which is great for us! I think he has a new collection out that we should check out.

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  2. Ha! That is hilarious...I thought this was one of your awesome blog titles! So, yes, I've noticed your great titles. They are fantastic!

    Dana

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    1. Well, none had posted by the time this one came up, so admittedly there's no reason anyone would notice, but glad you DO read the subject line!

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  3. You always find the most interesting books I have never heard about

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    1. Well, not much reason for Native American fiction to come your way!

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  4. I'm not usually a fan on short story collections, but these sound intriguing. Especially since they have recurring characters. Thanks for highlighting!I also need to read some Sherman Alexie. I hear great things about his work but I haven't read any of it yet.

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    1. Ooh, you should! But, as everyone here seems to agree, Part-Time Indian may be the best place to start :-)

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  5. When I wrote about this one, in July 2011, I talked about going back and forth between being charmed and irritated. The charm is what has remained, though. When he is good, he is so good. My favorite part is still the "death table" where the guy writes his last words.

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    1. That is a very good way of explaining your reaction - yes, some was so good and some was so not. I agree about the "death table." That story was fantastic.

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  6. For anyone interested in reading more Native American fiction, I personally recommend Last Woman Standing by Winona Laduke. I first read this as a freshman in college and she came to speak to our class. (In fact she may have been the first author I have met in person.) It was wonderful to hear her story and motivated me to stay connected to the Native American part of me. (Yes, I know everyone is an eighth part Native American. And I was probably a little too excited to find out that my great-grandmother was 100% Cherokee). Anyway.... But if you're looking for more Native American works to check out you can look through the list on Goodreads.

    http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/203.Native_American_Fiction#91440

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation! I've added Laduke to my wish list :-)

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  7. Kathy sent me Absolutely True Diary a few months ago, and I still haven't read it. It sounds like I need to make time for it soon, clearly! I also think that it's sad that we talk a lot about Native Americans in the past tense, and I can understand why there is so much bitterness towards that US from that sector of the population. Some of these stories sound excellent, and I need to read this one too! Excellent and very cogent thoughts today!

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    1. You should definitely read Absolutely True Diary!

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  8. 1) I think you should try Indian Killer next. It's waaay less depressing/angry than his short story collection The Toughest Indian in the World. Well, it's not exactly happy and cheerful, but it is incredible and doesn't make you suicidal. ;)

    2) You should also watch Smoke Signals if you haven't! Alexie wrote the screenplay, loosely based on this short story collection.

    3) I'd suggest checking out Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson, of the Haisla and Heiltsuk nations (Pacific Northwest). Excellently written, contemporary setting/characters. Depressing/heavy topics in the second half though. Honestly, Thomas King is probably the lightest of the Native American authors I've read! Other than Mardi Oakley Medawar's historical mystery series, but of course that's set in the past. I've heard good things about James Welch but haven't tried him yet. I suspect he's also depressing.

    4) I have noticed your titles & am impressed!

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    1. What? A historical mystery series? I'm on board! I have heard the same about Welch but feel I should try him as he is so famous. And just put Monkey Beach on my wish list, too!

      I agree they are all mostly depressing. It makes sense, but come on! It's kind of like the Russians. Most Indian authors are depressing, too...

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  9. A great review, I enjoyed this and I do want to read more of his work so this and Eva's comments are quite helpfu..

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  10. You must read Ten LIttle Indians. By far my favorite Sherman Alexie collection. I felt the same way about Flight and some of the stories in Lone Ranger, but nearly every story in Ten Little Indians is pitch perfect.

    xoxo,
    Erin

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    1. Ooh, good to know - thanks so much, Erin!

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  11. This was the first Alexie I read, and I was really underwhelmed by it. Then I read Part-Time Indian and I looooooved it. I think it was maybe a matter of perspective and age and the fact that the whole story could be more fleshed out in Part-Time's novel form. Maybe a mixture of those things, but this one, though it had a lot of overlap in characters, just never felt complete enough to satisfy me.

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