Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

Title: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
Author: Sherman Alexie
ISBN: 9780802141675, Grove Press, 2005
Genre: Short Stories, Native American Fiction
Rating: B

First Line: Although it was winter, the nearest ocean four hundred miles away, and the Tribal Weatherman asleep because of boredom, a hurricane dropped from the sky in 1976 and fell so hard on the Spokane Indian Reservation that it knocked Victor from bed and his latest nightmare.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a collection of short stories written by one of my favorite authors, Sherman Alexie. Alexie's writing can be very powerful and beautiful, and it has the added bonus of taking us out of our comfort zones and letting us see "how the other half lives" in the United States. Alexie is a Spokane Indian, and his writing has been formed in part by growing up on the reservation.

Growing up in central Illinois, I had no clue about reservations, other than knowing that the governmental policy always seemed to be one of placing reservations on worthless pieces of land. It wasn't until I moved to Arizona and could drive to places like Chinle or Page that I realized that there are indeed countries within the United States. The Navajo Nation is a nation. It has its own police force, its own language, and-- unlike the rest of Arizona-- observes Daylight Savings Time. The trials many Navajo face just to have enough water for themselves and their livestock on a daily basis are trials that you and I would never put up with. We deserve better. (Hopefully I didn't lace that last bit with too much sarcasm.)

We need writers like Alexie. Not only does he possess story-telling magic, he reminds us that we need to take off our rose-colored glasses from time to time and take a much closer look at America. There's work to be done. This collection of short stories contains the seeds of future films and books. It spans several years in his development as a writer, since some were written when he was nineteen:

So why am I telling you that these stories are true? First of all, they're not really true. They are the vision of one individual looking at the lives of his family and his entire tribe, so these stories are necessarily biased, incomplete, exaggerated, deluded, and often just plain wrong. But in trying to make them true and real, I am writing what might be called reservation realism.

I would imagine that, if all writers were completely honest with us, they'd have to say that what they write is often biased, incomplete, exaggerated, deluded, and just plain wrong. Sometimes you need to do some (or all) of those things to get your point across. Although these stories aren't as strong as his novels Indian Killer or Flight (both of which blew me away), I'm glad I read these stories. They are good, and they show the evolution of a very gifted writer.

[Source: The Poisoned Pen Bookstore.]


  1. Thank you for your review and this bit about reservations. I don´t like criticizing the policy of other countries, but I like when people are honest about their own country. We don´t share your past, but today we have a policy towards immigrants which I am not particularly proud of.

  2. Cathy - I, too, am glad you profiled this book. I also like Tony Hillerman and Margaret Coel's work for a simiilar reason. They give us some vital and fascinating insight into how others live, and make us look at our own selves as a people. Like Dorte, I like it when people are honest about their own country, and this is a terrific example.

  3. What a cracking title and opening line!

    Have a good new year, Cathy!

  4. I need to read more Alexie. I hadn't realized how good he was until I read his YA book. And I hadn't realized that the Navajos observe DST! I'm not a short story person, but I just added Indian Killer to my list!

  5. When one leaves a big city and the interstate it is amazing what can be found. A whole new country exists and, as you said, a whole nation. I'm adding this author to my list.

  6. That book would be worth reading just because of the title!

  7. So far I've read one volume of Alexie's poems and a YA book, and I think this one's next. The title is what initially attracted me, and now there's this review!

  8. I really have to read some of Alexie's books. I found myself reading more and more Native American fiction this year and I want to read even more.

    Happy New Year Cathy!

  9. I want to read more Alexie. This one is on my list!


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