A beloved American writer whose books are championed by critics and readers alike, Sherman Alexie has been hailed by Time as "one of the better new novelists, Indian or otherwise". Now his acclaimed new collection, The Toughest Indian in the World, which received universal praise in hardcover, is available in paperback.
In these stories, we meet the kind of American Indians we rarely see in literature -- the kind who pay their bills, hold down jobs, fall in and out of love. A Spokane Indian journalist transplanted from the reservation to the city picks up a hitchhiker, a Lummi boxer looking to take on the toughest Indian in the world. A Spokane son waits for his diabetic father to come home from the hospital, tossing out the Hershey Kisses the father has hidden all over the house. An estranged interracial couple, separated in the midst of a traffic accident, rediscover their love for each other. A white drifter holds up an International House of Pancakes, demanding a dollar per customer and someone to love, and emerges with $42 and an overweight Indian he dubs Salmon Boy. Sherman Alexie's voice is one of remarkable passion, and these stories are love stories -- between parents and children, white people and Indians, movie stars and ordinary people. Witty, tender, and fierce, The Toughest Indian in the World is a virtuoso performance by one of the country's finest writers.
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Call Sherman Alexie any number of things--novelist, poet, filmmaker, thorn in the side of white liberalism--just don't call him "universal." Aside from his well-documented distaste for the word, its fuzziness misses the point. The Toughest Indian in the World, Alexie's second collection, succeeds as brilliantly as it does because of its particularity. These aren't stories about the Indian Condition; they're stories about Indians--urban and reservation, street fighters and yuppies, husbands and wives. "She understood that white people were eccentric and complicated and she only wanted to be understood as eccentric and complicated as well," thinks the Coeur d'Alene narrator of "Assimilation," who's married (unhappily) to a white man. And yet the issue of race has taken up permanent residence inside her house: the marriage survives, but it's love that's the most thorough assimilation of all.
Like The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, much of The Toughest Indian in the World combines deft psychological realism with the kind of narrative logic more commonly found in dreams. In "South by Southwest," a white drifter finds love on a "nonviolent killing spree" with an overweight Indian he calls Salmon Boy; in "Dear John Wayne," the cowboy actor falls in love with a young Spokane woman and proves himself a charmingly feminist hero. ("Oh, sons, you're just engaging in some harmless gender play," he tells his boys when he finds them trying on lipstick.) But for every bear hibernating on top of the Catholic church, there's also a GAP-wearing, Toyota-driving urban Indian on a quest for his roots. In both realist and surrealist modes, Alexie writes incantatory prose--as well as the kind of dialogue that makes even secondary characters leap into sudden focus: "'What?' asked Wonder Horse, as simple a question as could possibly be tendered, though he made it sound as if he'd asked Where's the tumor?"
Alexie is sometimes guilty of painting his white characters with too broad a brush. (Is any anthropologist truly as obtuse as the one in "Dear John Wayne"? Could any reader really want Mary Lynn, the narrator of "Assimilation," to stay with her boorish white husband?) Yet his kind of firebrand politics still has the power to shock. A harrowing fable about whites kidnapping Indians for the medical properties of their blood, "The Sin Eaters" could be dismissed as paranoid if it weren't so hauntingly written:
On that morning, the sun rose and bloomed like blood in a glass syringe. The entire Spokane Indian Reservation and all of its people and places were clean and scrubbed. The Spokane River rose up from its bed like a man who had been healed and joyously wept all the way down to its confluence with the Columbia River. There was water everywhere: a thousand streams interrupted by makeshift waterfalls; small ponds hidden beneath a mask of thick fronds and anonymous blossoms; blankets of dew draped over the shoulders of isolated knolls. An entire civilization of insects lived in the mud puddle formed by one truck tire and a recent rain storm. The blades of grass, the narrow pine needles, and the stalks of roadside wheat were as sharp and bright as surgical tools.It's a hard story to read, and that's only right. The Toughest Indian in the World offers so many pleasures, who could deny it the power to disturb us as well? Funny, dreamlike, heartbreaking, angry--these are stories that could have been written by no one but Sherman Alexie. --Mary Park From the Inside Flap:
Sherman Alexie has been acclaimed by Time as "one of the better new novelists, Indian or otherwise," and his books have been compared to those of Richard Wright and James Baldwin in their immense lyric power and revolutionary spirit. Now, Sherman Alexie gives us his first new collection since the best-selling The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.
In these stories, we meet the kinds of American Indians we rarely see in literature--the upper and middle class, the professionals and white-collar workers, the bureaucrats and poets, falling in and out of love and wondering if they will make their way home. A Spokane Indian journalist transplanted from the reservation to the city picks up a hitchhiker, a Lummi boxer looking to take on the toughest Indian in the world. A Spokane son waits for his diabetic father to return from the hospital, listening to his father¹s friends argue over Jesus' carpentry skills as they build a wheelchair ramp. An estranged interracial couple, separated in the midst of a traffic accident, rediscover their love for each other. A white drifter holds up an International House of Pancakes, demanding a dollar per customer and someone to love, and emerges with forty-two dollars and an overweight Indian he dubs Salmon Boy. Sherman Alexie's is a voice of remarkable passion, and these stories are love stories--between parents and children, white people and Indians, movie stars and ordinary people. Witty, tender, and fierce, The Toughest Indian in the World is a virtuoso performance by one of the country's finest writers.
"Humorous, disturbing, formally inventive and heartwarming, Alexie's stories continually surprise, revealing him again and again as a master of his craft."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Make no mistake: Alexie's talent is immense and genuine.... On this big Indian reservation we call 'the United States,' Sherman Alexie is one of the best writers we have."--Leslie Marmon Silko, The Nation
"The world's first fast-talking, wisecracking, mediagenic American Indian superstar.... There is an anger in Sherman Alexie's work that hasn't been seen since James Baldwin...his characters carry the uneasy burden of racism with a resigned form of black humor."--Bruce Barcott, Men's Journal
"Hard-edged and urban, distinctly individual.... The characters in Mr. Alexie's work are not the usual kind of Indians.... They are not tragic victims or noble savages...they listen to Jimi Hendrix and Hank Williams; they dream of being basketball stars.... And unlike most Indians in fiction, they are sometimes funny."--Dinitia Smith, The New York Times
Sherman Alexie is a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian. He is the author of the novels Reservation Blues and Indian Killer, and he wrote the award-winning screenplay for Smoke Signals, a film based on his short-story collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.
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