Sherman Alexie has long been a favorite of mine, largely because his are among the most engaging short stories widely anthologized in the college readers. My students react well to Alexie, Carver, Shirley Jackson and Twain. I love to teach Faulkner and Gilman, but the students find that stuff a slog.
Alexie, though? They love his voice, and I do too. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian won a National Book Award, and deservedly so. Alexie excels with pacing and characterization. Arnold Spirit (Junior) is a self-deprecating, heroic narrator. He pushes the boundaries of life on the Spokane Indian Reservation and becomes a conduit between the Native American population and the white population in nearby Reardon. Despite straddling the line that exists between two very different worlds, Junior paradoxically is the one character that doesn't illustrate a dual nature. He knows exactly what he wants, and he has the courage to seek it out.
With a narrator as engaging and thoughtful as Junior (he actually says "I'm always saying dramatic stuff like that"), we take a tour through life on the reservation and in the city of Reardon. Junior's a great tour guide and lots of fun to spend time with.
The novel talks about loss in heart-breaking fashion (then blackly flips it on its head and pokes fun at it). In one scene, Junior's dad's best friend Eugene is shot in the face by another friend over the last sip of wine. It's a terribly sad chapter--one that's not that far off base when you consider news stories like the one below, which comes from the reservation outside of my hometown of Pendleton:
PORTLAND -- Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 20 for a man from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation who unintentionally killed a friend who had served him a beer can filled with urine as a joke. In a deal with prosecutors, David C. Shippentower, 46, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in November in federal court to punching Leonard Strong in the head on July 29, 2004, a blow that ultimately led to his death two days later.
According to the FBI, Strong and Shippentower were riding in a van on the reservation and drinking beer when Shippentower asked Strong to pass him a beer. Strong passed him a beer filled with urine, which upset Shippentower, who then punched Strong.
Court documents indicate Strong was left in a driveway in more than 100-degree heat and was later discovered by police officers and airlifted to Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. He died two days later of a subdural hematoma caused by the blow to his head.
Strong had a blood-alcohol level of .34. In Oregon, people with a blood-alcohol level of .08 are considered legally intoxicated.During court proceedings before U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty, Shippentower claimed he did not mean to kill Strong but admitted he was angered by the prank.
Shippentower will be sentenced in federal court on Thursday, Jan. 20. He could face up to six years in prison, the maximum for involuntary manslaughter.
Section: Local news
Copyright, 2005, East Oregonian (Pendleton, OR). All Rights Reserved.
Record Number: 34894
This book is billed as Alexie's first for young adults, but it's way beyond that. It speaks to anyone whose ever been an underdog--anyone whose ever wanted a life outside of the one prescribed for them. I highly recommend it.
I received a nice, hand-written rejection from the editors of Cemetery Dance yesterday inviting me to try again soon. Those are the simple gestures on the part of busy editors that validate the time spent at the word processor, and I hope to break into the flagship publication of horror fiction soon.