Sunday, August 15, 2010
Native American Comic Tragedy
Choosing a new book to read can be a challenge. I was rushing to catch a train when I stopped into a book store to get a book to read on the train. For some strange reason I didn’t see a familiar title or author. So I picked up a book with a gold seal that stated “Winner Pen Faulkner Award”.I had no idea who the author was or what the book was about. But I was in a hurry.
The book I inadvertently chose was “War Dances”, a collection of short stories and poems by the Native American writer, Sherman Alexie. The stories are written in a captivating, in your face style that makes them seem autobiographical. And although they may have their origins in Alexie’s own life, they are fiction. In the first story “Breaking and Entering” the narrator is a film editor working at home. Sherman Alexie has written two screen plays. The story progresses in a chatty, self deprecating style. But the reader slowly realizes that something is wrong, even before the narrator lets us know. What happened wasn’t “his” fault, but maybe he could have avoided it, all the signs were there. It is a very powerful story.
Before each story, Sherman Alexie, has written a poem. They are short, straight forward, poignant poems about contemporary issues and they relate in some way to the story that follows each poem. In “War Dances” the narrator is in the hospital with his aging, alcoholic, diabetic father. All he wants to do is find a blanket for his father. Before the story is a poem Alexie has written about playing legos with his sons.
The stories revolve around family, love, the problems of love, how American Indians are stereotyped in our society, and how race issues enter into everyday life whether we choose it to or not.
Sherman Alexie is a strong new voice who has a lot to say about life. The best part is that he can tell a great story that is sad and true, but he has that special talent that can make you laugh through the sadness, because he has been there and he knows that humor is the only way out.