War Dances by Sherman Alexie
Grove Press, 209 pp.
Sherman Alexie is as interesting a person as he is a writer. A few years back I heard him do an interview with national conservative talk show host, and Seattle-based, Michael Medved. Although Alexie declared himself somewhat left on the political spectrum, I found him to be one of the most delightful (and I'm not a guy who uses that word often, but it fits) interviews I've ever heard. While so many folks, on both sides can sound downright mean, Alexie is honest, self-deprecating, insightful, and quite funny.
Why did I start this review of War Dances with a review of Alexie's interview prowess? Well, because I found many of the reasons I liked the book are the same reasons I'd liked the interview. While at times I laughed, saddened, and even winced, I was sucked in by every word.
While the stories appear to be "all over the place," you sense there is a common thread running through the stories--and there is. And these are stories that feel so real the fact they're fiction, often feels vice versa. So real. And for me, as a Seattle cop, my day job, it rang incredibly real in one particular story.
A father is home alone, in Seattle's Central District, (my beat) working as a freelance film editor. There's a knock at the door at three in the afternoon. Determining that no one of any worth comes to anyone's door at that time of day, he ignores the knock and returns to his work. A minute or two later he hears a window break, and confronts a burglar who's broken in. The remainder of the story is fascinating, but I can tell you this specific type of burglary, this M.O., Modus Operandi, is unfortunately way too common in the neighborhood Alexie describes.
The stories in War Dances all have this sense of realism, and are uniquely compelling. The way the book is composed, longer, short stories, are interspersed with poems. I'm probably not the most qualified to judge poetry, but, like with wine, I know what I like. I respond to Alexie's poems like no one else's I read.
Normally when I read poetry I either, roll my eyes, gag, and then determine immediately, it sucks. My alternate determination is ambivalence: I truly don't know if I like it or not. Since poetry is too often associated with the realm of pretense, sometimes I think I'm supposed to like it, like I tried to like Maya Angelou's poem at the last presidential inauguration. I felt I was expected to like it, I've liked some of her other poems, I tried to like it--alas, for me, not!
I'm not sure what it is, but I find most of Alexie's poetry deeply satisfying. I may risk some pretension here myself, but I find it refreshingly honest. It feels as if the poet is truly writing for himself--damn the reader (in a nice way), but this is stuff that feels like it really means something to him, and though he may not care if it means something, or anything, to others, it does mean something to me, and I'd guess it will resonate with you too.