Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Absurdly human drunk Indians

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in HeavenThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finally got around to finishing this. Started it like 6 or 7 yrs ago after having watched Smoke Signals which was loosely based on these stories and was written by the same author, Alexie.

I'd like to say that I was completely riveted by each story because I so so much loved Smoke Signals. Instead I can say that several stories were wonderfully written: "The only traffic signal on the reservation doesn't flash red anymore (probably my favorite) which is a meditation on reservation heroes, basketball, alcohol, and dreams; "This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona" where we get the broad strokes of the Smoke Signal plot; "Jesus Christ's half-brother is alive and well on the Spokane Indian Reservation" which is philosophical and surprising; Family portrait which gets at the constant distortion of language and history.

I can also say that the overall impact of the book is unique, irreverent, fanciful yet stone-cold serious, playful yet philosophical AND my sense is when I wasn't riveted it was about me, about my inability to close my eyes and embrace the wispy lunacy that Alexie is boring into. Here's some stone-cold serious lunacy, an irreverently counterintuitive passage from "The only traffic signal...":

"It's hard to be optimistic on the reservation. When a glass sits on a table here, people don't wonder if it's half-filled or half empty. They just hope it's a good beer. Still, Indians have a way of surviving. But it's almost like Indians can easily survive the big stuff. Mass Murder, loss language and land rights. It's the small things that hurt the most. The white waitress who wouldn't take an order, Tonto, the Washington Redskins" (49).

And that's the essence of the book and Smoke Signals. Alexie faces the pain and suffering of the Indian, completely embraces AND rejects the truth and stereotype of the drunk broken Indian, yet comes out laughing and fancydancing and storytelling. Alexie embraces the meaninglessness, the absurdity of it all, instead of trying to explain it or rectify it.

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radagast said...

Well said, Ron. I think you capture Alexie's writing very well. I find that he never lets me get comfortable, you know? I kind of set my palate for a certain kind of fare from him, and then he disrupts that with something unexpected and not always welcome. And, of course, that's part of what he's all about, I suppose--not being pigeonhole-able.

Counterintuitive said...

Yes, exactly--never let's you quite get comfortable. Always a little something to throw one off balance.