Friday, September 25, 2015

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

Some of you may have read my review on Alexie's other book, Reservation Blues, but this book, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, a collection of short stories, was his debut to the literary world.

It was a unique sensation, reading short stories about very familiar characters in Reservation Blues, but it was like seeing old friends again. It's probably why I like series so much. You become invested in characters and you wonder how they are doing and you wonder what is going to happen to them next. As a reader, I'm curious to understand their character development and how other characters react to them.

With this edition, he wrote an introduction. Normally I don't read introductions to books. They are usually by other people, and I never know what the heck they are talking about. Believe me, I know the importance of an introduction (kinda, sorta) but for some reason... I read a few paragraphs and then I skip to the start of the book. Maybe I'm impatient?

Anyway, I read the introduction to the book. I really like Alexie's voice and I'm envious to how well he conveys it. He writes about his break out in the literary world with his first publication, The Business of Fancydancing and the rollercoaster ride that came with it. He tells the story about an agent who told him that his stories needed work, which he didn't like, and eventually went with another agent, who published his stories quickly. I'm not sure why he decided to divulge that information? Is it to stick it to the agent that told him he should rewrite some of his work?

Here is a hot take, I liked Reservation Blues much more. Reservation Blues is much more polished than Tonto, but I'm not sure if I feel that way because Reservation Blues is a novel and Tonto is a collection of short stories, so it's meant to feel a bit disjointed, but I also noticed that Alexie was trying out his writing style. What did he like? What didn't he like? What was he good at?

I don't blame the agent for wanting to take it slow, but I do understand Alexie's gut instinct to jump when he needed too.

Now onto the book.

My favorite character in both Reservation Blues and The Lone Ranger is Thomas Builds-the-Fire. I loved his stories, and it was very interesting to me to read the dynamic between him and the rest of the tribe. He told stories about the present, about the past and about the future, and there is this theme of deep regret, anger and shame on the Spokane Indian Reservation about exactly that. Many try their best to deny and forget.

Thomas doesn't do that. He has been beaten up by Victor, a childhood acquaintance and the other members of the community refuse to listen to Thomas anymore. However, he doesn't become bitter or angry, or change the way he is. He still tells stories (not out loud) and in one short story, even accompanies Victor to pick up his deceased father.

I'm always fascinated with stories about people who, despite being good, still have bad things happen to them. Thomas is misunderstood by the whites, and is sent to prison after telling a story about a massacre in the 1800s. It's obviously a story set in the past, but he tells it under oath, and eager to send him away, they convict him. Though the whites destroyed Indian tribes across the nation without repercussions, but as soon as a white person was killed, though 100 years ago, the Indian is put away and titled a savage.

There is a deep seated sadness with these stories that undoubtedly have to do with oppression of a people but is lost in the telling of American History. When a student sits through history class, they of course, get the spiel about Native Americans and Manifest Destiny. Most likely there is a lesson on the trail of tears. However, there is seldom mention of the now defunct residential schools, planned to wipe out native culture and the poor land that most of the tribe is on today, along with the lack of opportunity in almost everything. Alcohol is rampagant in the community and poverty is a strong bedfellow.

Alexie does a good job of showing both the beautiful and ugly sides of life of the Spokane Indian reservation and the differences between different groups of people. I suspect it would be easy to demonize whites (and rightly so) for all that they have done, but Alexie presents it as a fact, and then moves on (and rightly so). Even though white people have essentially destroyed their past way of life, it's a moot point. There are other issues to combat (or just react too). He shows the difference between the elders and the new generation, the differences between men and women, the differences between families and the differences between city Indians and reservation Indians. But he also shows just how similar they all are in their reactions and their dreams to become something more, or to go back to the way it used to be.

I'm interested in watching Smoke Signals (maybe a Which is Better? post) and reading more of his books.

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