June 2nd, 2009

Library books

Sometimes Stories with Long and Intricate Titles Aren't That Good, Unfortunately

Poll #1410223 Let's see who's been paying attention.

Do you know who Sherman Alexie is?


After loving one book and really liking another by Sherman Alexie, I was excited to read his first collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. I really enjoyed the Introduction.

Maybe I should have stopped there?

Out of the 24 short stories in the collection, I liked...5? 6? "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," about two friends (or "friends") going to bury one of their fathers. "The Approximate Size of My Favorite Tumor," about a marriage crumbling after the husband is diagnosed with terminal cancer but continues to use humor as a defense mechanism. "Indian Education," about...Indian education. "Witnesses, Secret and Not," about a boy and his dad traveling to answer questions about an unsolved murder. "Junior Polatkin's Wild West Show," about an Indian guy hooking up with a white girl at college.

This handful of stories I enjoyed (most were buried at the end). I cared about the characters and what was happening to them. I'm not certain whether I liked them objectively or whether they were simply good in comparison to the rest.

Which were inscrutable, boring, and almost off-putting at times. It's obvious Alexie is a poet, as he tends to be very lyrical. And it's obvious Alexie is an Indian, as he is depicting the modern Indian Experience in all its drunken glory. But I think the problem I had with most of the book is that I thought the insights and arguments and anecdotes would have been better served in essays or poems; a lot of the stories seemed constructed around the opportunity to use this One Great Line. And a lot just had that One Great Line thrown in there at the end as if that would give it the proper impact except the goddamn story had done nothing to illuminate the point he was trying to make. Scattered throughout were many interesting observations and sad proclamations that did give me insight into what it's like to be a Native American today, but I could barely appreciate them because they seemed so shoehorned into each story, which generally went nowhere or dicked around in faux magical realism and metaphor. Sometimes I liked little parts of a story but then it just ended and I wondered what the fuck the point of it all was.

I had to force myself to keep going after story after unsatisfactory story, hoping that at some point they would get good (and, as I said, most of the ones I liked are near the end). The fact that they were all interconnected with recurring characters was neat, but the characters—with the exception of Thomas Builds-the-Fire—weren't really distinct enough to make it interesting to see them in different stories. Eventually, I wanted to get to the end of the book so I could read something else, and I am not a fan of that reading experience.

I'm always hesitant after reading a book I don't like by an author I do like.
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