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Monday, February 23, 2009

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
by Sherman Alexie
242 pages

This book is the first collection of short stories by Native American author Sherman Alexie. The stories are mostly autobiographical* and focus on life on the Reservation. This book was the basis for the movie SMOKE SIGNALS which I loved. The movie clip below incorporates parts of at least three different stories found in this book:

*** My Thoughts ***

I've said before that I'm not a fan of short stories but after my wonderful experience reading INTERPRETER OF MALADIES, by Jhumpa Lahiri, I decided to give them another try. I also figured that there might be some similarity in the way Lahiri and Alexie each dealt with the ethnicity of the characters in their stories. I'm not sure if I could have been any more wrong!

Whereas Lahiri's writing is fluid and soft, Alexie's is sharp and choppy. While Lahiri's stories are linear and move in an ordered direction, Alexie's stories jump from one place/time to another and sometimes back again. There is also a strong sense of ... something ... mysticism, maybe? ... present in Alexie's work that is not found in Lahiri's. The two authors are so completely different that I can't even begin to compare them.

I'm very glad I read this book but I can't say that I really liked it or understood it. It hasn't turned me off from Alexie's work though - I'm still very interested to read THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART TIME INDIAN and several of his other books.

Oh, and I have no idea why the book has the title that it does. I read the story with that title and I just didn't get it. If you've read this, can you please explain it to me?

*** A Bit About This Edition ***

I read the 10 year anniversary edition of this book. It includes an introduction by the author as well as two additional stories. The introduction was quite necessary for me - without it, I may have quit reading early on. In it, Alexie talks about how he got his start as a published writer and which parts of the stories are "true". His personality really shines through in this introduction, much more so than in the stories that make up the rest of the book. It was the introduction that made me want to read more of his work.

The final story in the book was one of the two added to this edition, and it was by far my favorite. It is a much more traditional story in that is has a definite plot. For me, the characters in this story seemed much more real and much more relate-able than those in his other stories. It could be simply because I don't have a Native American background (although I really don't think that is it) but I found it hard to relate to most of the other stories.

One more thing about this particular edition is that it included a Discussion Guide at the end. Now I'm all about Discussion Guides. They can make you think about a book in a new way, notice something you didn't notice before. I always read the questions even if I'm not reading the book for book club. HOWEVER ... I'd like it if the questions got the facts of the book right. Maybe it was simply a proofreading thing or maybe this question-writer didn't actually read the stories, but there were two distinct mistakes in the questions that really bothered me. Have you ever had that experience before?

*** Your Thoughts ***

Has anyone else read this book? What about some of his other books? Am I right in thinking that his writing style is different now than it was in this first book?

*According to the introduction, Alexie at first denied that the stories were based on his own life but later retracted his denial.


Kristen said...

I read The Lone Ranger... last year or the year before (time blurs so easily these days!) and have to admit I didn't love it despite wanting to. My edition was the original one and after reading your comments, I think I missed out on something good by not having the intro by Alexie or the final two added stories. I'm still uncertain if I'll read something else of his or not so I'll be curious to see if you do and what you think of it if you do.

Jill said...

I've been meaning to read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian for ages, but haven't gotten around to it yet. I've heard a lot of good things about it.

Becca said...

My father, who passed away a month ago, would have just loved to read this. He was always talking about watching The Lone Ranger as a kid and he loved westerns, both books and movies. When I first read this, my first instinct was to e-mail it to him. I guess that will still happen for a while. I will probably want to read this book one day, but it will have to go on the TBR list for now.

LoopdiLou said...

Wow! Thanks for blogging about this. I honestly had no idea Smoke Signals was even based on a book (probably wasn't paying attention) and I absolutely loved the movie. I've read a number of accounts from Indians (Russell Means and Mary Crow Dog notably) but nothing by Alexie. I may just have to go pick this up.

Amanda said...

I haven't read anything by Alexie but I remember really liking the movie. I need to rent that one again. Thanks for letting me know it was based on a book!

Becca said...

Haha, my mistake. Well, he may have liked it anyway.

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