Top critical review
Impotence and aimlessness
on January 26, 2001
The characters Victor Joesph and Thomas Builds the Fire who first appeared in Alexie's "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" are prominent in this novel, which serves as a sequel to the short story in which they first appeared. While the novel's beginning, with the arrival of black blues player Robert Johnson's arrival at the Spokane reservation, initially suggests a possible variation the novel quickly returns to the theme present in other Alexie works, albeit with different essential messages about the condition of American Indians today.
The story is written in the author's typical sardonic fashion, portraying ongoing hapless episodes confronting the protagonists, with the Indians reflecting on their experiences and fate in a self deprecating and defeatest fashion. However, Alexie offers a number of distinctive observations in this tale. Among them he notes how the suppression of American Indians is in part a function of how the predominant society has kept them divided. This is illustrated by descriptions of the petty tyranny of the tribal police and tribal council corrupted by their power on the reservation, narrow attitudes of territoriality taking predominance over group identity in distinctions between tribes, and how jealousy over the prospect of success helps thwart the advancement of tribal members and actually promotes alienation, failure, and self destruction.
Alexie's mordant humor comes to play in depicting the ongoing theft by the predominant culture of what little remains to American Indians, with Caucasians exploiting Native American culture and those who are "part" native American or those masquerading presuming to be representative. In a particularly ironic episode Indians visiting Manhattan are dismissed as surely being Puerto Rican, not Native American.
Touching, thought provoking and well written. It is woven with important messages about a people who are treated as if they are invisible.