Sunday, May 29, 2011

War Dances, by Sherman Alexie

I think I would be a better person if I spent a little time in Sherman Alexie's presence every day. He's smart and funny and reasonable and passionate. And he's good at taking a stand. I have really enjoyed everything I've read of his, including many interviews. Here is a very funny clip of him talking to Steven Colbert about why he won't allow any of his work to be sold electronically.

Some of the things I love about this book:

It is a perfectly balanced collection of prose and poetry. Everyone likes poetry, right, but how many of us can manage a whole book of it? Much better to have it mixed in with good old-fashioned prose.

It is always hard to tell whether these stories are autobiographical, fictional, or a combination of the two. For some reason this makes them all seem very real and very true. And it's not at all distracting, as I would have expected. Instead of wondering which parts are the author, and which parts are imagined, I find myself thinking that these are the thoughts and actions of a real person in a real situation.

The people in this book are all flawed, and are all exactly the kind of people I would like to hang out with. Alexie's characters all share an authenticity that is rare and delicate. I've always wondered how one would invent a person and make her true to herself; half the time I don't know how I'm going to feel about something, so how on earth would I know how my fictional character would feel? Apparently Sherman Alexie does not have this problem.

This is a quick read. Yet it is not at all fluffy. This, I think, is a rare gift, to be able to write stories that are true and rich and yet simple. It feels as though he's sitting a the table with you, telling you the story, choosing his words carefully, but not deliberating overlong, not complicating things.

I read The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian about a year ago, then immediately watched Smoke Signals, a movie for which he wrote the screenplay. I am now tempted to gather all things Alexie and power through them, but that would be like eating all your jellybeans on Easter morning. An indulgence which ultimately makes you wish you had some restraint.

1 comment:

  1. One of my all-time favorite writers- and I haven't read this one yet! Saw him at Live-Wire a while back and he was so, so great in person. Yeah, we'd
    all be better off spending some time with him.
    Thanks for the review, off to put a hold on it at the library.