Poetry. Native American Studies. "Whether slyly identifying irony as a white man's invention, or deftly moving from prose-like multilayered narratives to formal poetry and song structures, this fifth collection from poet, novelist, and screenwriter Alexie demonstrates many of his skills. Most prominent perhaps is his ability to handle multiple perspectives and complex psychological subject matter with a humor that feeds readability: 'Successful non-Indian writers are viewed as well-informed about Indian life. Successful mixed-blood writers are viewed as wonderful translators of Indian life. Successful Indian writers are viewed as traditional storytellers of Indian life.' Poems such as the title one, a haunting chant for lost family, and 'The Theology of Cockroaches,' do some vivid scene setting: '...never/woke to a wall filled with cockroaches/spelling out my name, never/stepped into a dark room and heard/the cockroaches baying at the moon.' At times Alexie allows his language, within the lineated poems almost exclusively, to slacken into cliché. The opening, multipart prose piece 'The Unauthorized Biography of Me' is arguably the strongest in the book, juxtaposing roughly chronological anecdotes with 'An Incomplete List of People I Wish Were Indian' and the formula 'Poetry = anger x imagination.' Other poems tell of 'Migration, 1902' and 'Sex in Motel Rooms'; describe 'How It Happens' and 'Second Grief'; and develop 'The Anatomy of Mushrooms.' Alexie's latest is as powerful and challenging as his previous excellent books, and should only add readers to his ever-widening audience"—Publishers Weekly.
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Sherman Alexie's poems, fiction, essays and films have won him an international following since his first book, THE BUSINESS OF FANCYDANCING, was published in 1992. SMOKE SIGNALS, the film he adapted from one of his short stories and co-produced, enlarged his audience still further. Alexie's awards include the Stranger Genius Award in Literature, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards for Excellence in Children's Literature in Fiction, and the National Book Award for Young People's Literature as well as honors and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Foundation, and a citation as "One of 20 Best American Novelists Under the Age of 40" from Granta magazine. An enrolled Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, Alexie lives in Seattle with his wife and sons.From Kirkus Reviews:
Distinguishing poems from prose in this mixed-genre collection is simple: the poems feature line breaks and copious repetition. To readers who require further elucidation, Alexie offers this inane equation: "Poetry = Anger x Imagination." Even if that were true, much of his anger about the mistreatment of Indians (not, he firmly declares, "Native Americans") in America is diluted (divided?) by sentimentality. The material, often about reservation life, appears to be autobiographical, although Alexie seems to enjoy challenging readers' perceptions of reality-especially white readers. "Why Indian Men Fall in Love with White Women" (a frequently recurring theme, incidentally) is set in a donut shop, although "it wasn't / a donut shop but something else entirely." The desired effect of such a gesture must be irony-Alexie avers elsewhere that "Indians recognize irony when [they] see it." But the author himself must not see it when he sarcastically rebukes a critic for inquiring about the oral tradition ("It doesn't apply at all because I typed this. And when I'm typing, I'm really, really quiet"), since almost none of the poems works effectively on the page. This is the stuff of slams. Still, there is much welcome humor in Alexie, and many of the prose passages about his reservation childhood are imbued with a touching lyricism. One wishes for more poems like the fine, if ponderously titled, "A Poem Written in Replication of My Father's Unfinished Novel Which He Would Read to His Children Whenever He Was Drunk."Novelist Alexie (The Toughest Indian in the World, p. 400, etc.) ultimately has two things to declare in this book: he is a poet and an Indian. But the evidence supports only the latter claim. -- Copyright © 2000 Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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