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.