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Call Sherman Alexie any number of things--novelist, poet, filmmaker, thorn in the side of white liberalism--just don't call him "universal." Aside from his well-documented distaste for the word, its fuzziness misses the point. The Toughest Indian in the World, Alexie's second collection, succeeds as brilliantly as it does because of its particularity. These aren't stories about the Indian Condition; they're stories about Indians--urban and reservation, street fighters and yuppies, husbands and wives. "She understood that white people were eccentric and complicated and she only wanted to be understood as eccentric and complicated as well," thinks the Coeur d'Alene narrator of "Assimilation," who's married (unhappily) to a white man. And yet the issue of race has taken up permanent residence inside her house: the marriage survives, but it's love that's the most thorough assimilation of all.
Like The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, much of The Toughest Indian in the World combines deft psychological realism with the kind of narrative logic more commonly found in dreams. In "South by Southwest," a white drifter finds love on a "nonviolent killing spree" with an overweight Indian he calls Salmon Boy; in "Dear John Wayne," the cowboy actor falls in love with a young Spokane woman and proves himself a charmingly feminist hero. ("Oh, sons, you're just engaging in some harmless gender play," he tells his boys when he finds them trying on lipstick.) But for every bear hibernating on top of the Catholic church, there's also a GAP-wearing, Toyota-driving urban Indian on a quest for his roots. In both realist and surrealist modes, Alexie writes incantatory prose--as well as the kind of dialogue that makes even secondary characters leap into sudden focus: "'What?' asked Wonder Horse, as simple a question as could possibly be tendered, though he made it sound as if he'd asked Where's the tumor?"
Alexie is sometimes guilty of painting his white characters with too broad a brush. (Is any anthropologist truly as obtuse as the one in "Dear John Wayne"? Could any reader really want Mary Lynn, the narrator of "Assimilation," to stay with her boorish white husband?) Yet his kind of firebrand politics still has the power to shock. A harrowing fable about whites kidnapping Indians for the medical properties of their blood, "The Sin Eaters" could be dismissed as paranoid if it weren't so hauntingly written:
On that morning, the sun rose and bloomed like blood in a glass syringe. The entire Spokane Indian Reservation and all of its people and places were clean and scrubbed. The Spokane River rose up from its bed like a man who had been healed and joyously wept all the way down to its confluence with the Columbia River. There was water everywhere: a thousand streams interrupted by makeshift waterfalls; small ponds hidden beneath a mask of thick fronds and anonymous blossoms; blankets of dew draped over the shoulders of isolated knolls. An entire civilization of insects lived in the mud puddle formed by one truck tire and a recent rain storm. The blades of grass, the narrow pine needles, and the stalks of roadside wheat were as sharp and bright as surgical tools.It's a hard story to read, and that's only right. The Toughest Indian in the World offers so many pleasures, who could deny it the power to disturb us as well? Funny, dreamlike, heartbreaking, angry--these are stories that could have been written by no one but Sherman Alexie. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A prolific novelist, poet and screenplay writer, Alexie (Indian Killer; Reservation Blues) has been hailed as one of the best young writers of his generation. This dexterous second collection of stories contains what may be one of the best short fiction pieces of the year. "The Toughest Indian in the World" follows a young Spokane Indian who works at an all-white newspaper in Seattle and, in a forlorn attempt to reconnect with his roots, has his first homosexual experience with a tough Lummi fighter. It's a moving story that skillfully employs symbolism and flashbacks to construct an ending that is both uplifting and sorrowful. Many of the eight other stories in this collection also deal with urban Indians who are straddling two worlds: an intimate but indigent life on the reservation and an affluent but strange and sometimes hostile white middle-class existence. Their solutions to this double bind are rarely ordinary. "Assimilation" tells of a Coeur d'Alene woman who deliberately cheats on her white husband, only to rediscover her affection for him in the middle of a traffic jam. "Class" features a Spokane who sometimes tells white women he's Aztec, because "there were aphrodisiacal benefits from claiming to be descended from ritual cannibals." In "South by Southwest" a white man and a fat Indian nicknamed Salmon Boy, who declares he's not homosexual but does believe in love, set off on a nonviolent killing spree. Two tales, "Saint Junior" and "A Good Man," deal with marriage and death on the rez. The anger in these narratives is leavened by Alexie's acerbic wit and his obvious belief in the redemptive power of love. One exception, however, is "The Sin Eaters," an apocalyptic tale in which America's Indians are rounded up into massive underground prisons where soldiers force them to breed and give up their blood. Humorous, disturbing, formally inventive and heartwarming, Alexie's stories continually surprise, revealing him once again as a master of his craft. Agent, Nancy Cahoon, N. Stauffer Assoc. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
I have purchased this book at least 4 times now. I love it, and all of Alexie's work, so much that I keep wanting to share it with others. Read morePublished on April 18 2004
I never used to like compilations of short stories, but Sherman Alexie has changed that. This is the second book I've read by him, and I'm infatuated with his writing. Read morePublished on Feb. 2 2004 by Samantha M. Peterson
I first read "Lone Ranger" not long after it first came out and have read almost all of Alexie's books since, both fiction and poetry. Read morePublished on March 17 2003
Sherman Alexie's book brings out many emotions...it's sad and funny and touching....it's a collection of stories about modern day Indians living in and out of the modern world.... Read morePublished on June 12 2002 by pdxbeautiful
"Writin' is fightin'!" poet/novelist/essayist Ishmael Reed has declared. No doubt. Saying the pen (or the word processor) is mightier than the sword recognizes that literacy and... Read morePublished on May 21 2002 by Jomo Ray
*****Sherman Alexie is funny, and can he write!
ï¿½The Toughest Indian in the Worldï¿½ is a good book. Read more
I was a little disappointed in this book. After reading the first essay I felt I gained a sense of the alienation Native Americans must feel when attempting to assimilate into... Read morePublished on March 13 2002
this collection of stories contains some gems and some that are pretty bad. it's tough to judge sherman alexie on this collection. Read morePublished on Jan. 17 2002 by firstname.lastname@example.org