Lone Ranger And Tonto Fistfight In Heaven Paperback – 11 Sep 1997
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"So wide-ranging, dexterous and consistently capable of raising your neck hair that it enters at once into our ideas of who we are and who we might be" (New York Times Book Review)
"I laughed and laughed and couldn't stop reading... Sherman Alexie is simply one of the best new writers we have" (Leslie Marmon Silko)
"Poetic and unremittingly honest . . . The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is for the American Indian what Richard Wright’s Native Son was for the black American in 1940." (The Chicago Tribune)
Twenty-two powerful stories which balance unbearable honesty about the difficulties of life in an American Indian reservation with irrepressible passion, warmth and wit.See all Product description
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It's a very pregnant style. When you read it, you're invested with the places and the people and feeling. They're all around you.
And yet, he leaves a lot of space to the reader. There are a lot of things as a reader you have to sort out by yourself. Alexie gives you the row stuff, a very rich, textured, flavoured row stuff, but then you as a reader have to work it out and turn it into a refined idea or sensation.
So, my experience with this book, which is the first I read by Alexie, was this strange dual occurrence: he gave me a lot of what it's his, but he left space to me to put my experience in and feel in the gaps. So that our experience mix, and they have a meaning because they mix. Because in the moment I put forward my own ideas and thoughts and feelings to make sense of the story, I let his ideas and thoughts and feelings come freely to me.
I think this is the reason why, even if Alexie always tells about Indians, in a very strongly Indian way and language, from an achingly Indian outlook on the world, seen thought places which are Indian and experiences which are undoubtedly Indian, when his message comes to me it is, most of the time, a universal message. Something which I can understand, and feel and experience as if my own.
There are many stories in this collection. Some are funny, some are haunting, some are sorrowful. Some are all of this together. Humour is never far away, no matter how tragic a story may be.
My favourite are the three about Thomas Build-the-Fire. There are many recurring characters in this collection, Victor, Junior, Thomas, Seymour. Still I came to the conclusion they are not really the same people even when they carry the same name. It's more like they're the same kind of person and the name is a symbol to identify them.
For me, it's the same with Thomas. He's the keeper of memory, the one who remembers the past and tries strenuously to make his people remember. Sometimes he's listened to, but more often he's shied away, made fun of, even beat up. And still he never gives up. He's always there when his people need him.
He's a young, freaky boy in the first two stories he appears in, "A Drug Called Tradition" and "What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" (beautiful, this one). He's the guy who think he can fly and breaks a leg jumping from the roof of the school. But even as his pears laugh at him for that stupid idea, they envy him for believing he could do it. He's an old man in the last one, "The Trial of Thomas Build-the-Fire". The man who didn't speak for tens of years and when he finally speaks again at his trial, he tells stories his people thought they had lost, he awakens the memory and the pride that goes with it.
There are similarities in the young and the old Thomas, but there are also such differences that I wondered whether they really were the same man.
Alexie's stories are all like this. A sort of riddle that push you to look deeper, more carefully, if you want to make sense of them.
Unfortunately then, I started Alexie's book of linked stories around recurring characters, with certain expectations around language : beauty, sinewy muscularity, precision, multifaceted meaning or allusion in the choice of words. Some sort of sense that each word and phrase would have weight, and would fit closely and unerringly in place.
And although the matter of the stories is interesting, and though Alexie writes with warmth, passion and much heart about what it feels like, and why, to be a Native American and to grow up and live on a reservation, to deal with all the losses, to respond with resilience, anguish, pain and humour, I was waiting to find that major lyric voice.
Alexie writes with huge warmth and authenticity, does not disguise the way in which Native Americans have their expectations set low, or what it means to live in a country where your birthright was sold, or you let it go, for a mess of pottage. I appreciate the humanity within - but I just feel let down through the expectation of exceptional writing,
The undoubted warmth and heart, sadly, are not enough, and I remain a little puzzled by the accolades accorded to the writing itself, to the style. However important and worthy the content, I just wanted style as well as substance. Instead, Alexie is more of a blunt talking man, calling a spade clearly a shovel, low on descriptors, high on wisecracks, but not a lot that, in the opinion of this reader, belongs to a lyric voice :
Somehow my father's memories of my mother grew more beautiful as their relationship became more hostile. By the time the divorce was final, my mother was quite possibly the most beautiful woman who ever lived.
"Your father was always half crazy" my mother told me more than once "And the other half was on medication"
This is really the style, conversational, plain speaking, pull-the-rug away humour.
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