Saturday, December 06, 2003

The Toughest Indian in the World, by Sherman Alexie

The first thing you need to know about Sherman Alexie is that he's the best reader I've ever seen, bar none. If you have the chance to see him on a book tour or a speaking engagement, go. He could make a laugh riot out of the proverbial phone book. (And if you're not sure to what proverb I'm referring, ask a James Marsters fan.)

At its best, Alexie's fiction reflects his highly refined sense of the ridiculous and his love for people in tragicomic circumstances. This collection isn't across-the-board wonderful; at times things are a bit mundane for my taste, but then my taste is prejudiced towards the whacked-out and fantastic. (Which is perhaps ironic, since my least favorite story in this collection, "The Sin Eaters," is probably the most fantastic.) With titles like "Assimilation" and "Class," many of these stories are concerned with Native Americans of the middle class, and there's nothing wrong with that. The only problem is that red angst is just as dull as white angst. The best story here is probably "Dear John Wayne," which plays with the titular icon in fascinating and hilarious ways, and it's not as though there aren't other great stories here. But I have the fear that Sherman is going in a direction that may leave me behind in the not-too-distant future; either that, or I've just got some catching up to do.


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