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.