Two books: Alexie & Oates

So, this morning I finished reading “The Lone Ranger And Tonto Fistfight In Heaven,” by Sherman Alexie. I picked it up at the BU library, but didn’t know anything about it (except that it sounded familiar). It’s not quite a novel, but not quite a collection of short stories. It’s more quick peeks into people’s lives, little vignettes that give you some insight into a person and, put all together, into a community.

The book focuses on a Native American Indian tribe on the Spokane Reservation, and is narrated mainly by one man, Victor. We see bits of his childhood and adulthood, and we see him struggle to reconcile what he understands about his community vs. how whites see and react to it. The stories are funny and sad at the same time: Alexie writes about terrible things (alcoholism, neglect) but with humor. It’s a different kind of humor than what I’ve encountered in more recent books I’ve read (“Tonto” was first published in 1993) — it’s not self aware, ironic, sarcastic, bitter or jaded. It’s colored by regret and the deep-rooted knowledge that, while change is theoretically possible, there’s only so much that one person can do.

I recommend it. I also recently finished a short story collection by Joyce Carol Oates called “The Goddess and Other Women.” It’s one of her older books, and is a collection of stories about women, mostly young women, and identity — how these women perceive themselves and others, how they are struggling to find an identity for themselves, the identities imposed upon them by others (parents, strangers, lovers). Overall it is a fairly dark collection, but she writes so well that I can’t tell you not to go read it.

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