Alexie knows he’s contemporary literature’s “Indian du jour” (a phrase he has often used), and isn’t quite sure how he feels...


A mixed-bag collection of nine stories from the popular American (Spokane Coeur d’Alene) Indian author of such breakthrough successes as The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1993) and Reservation Blues (1995).

Alexie has been known to scorn the politically correct contemporary appellation “Native American,” and this volume rather overindulges what appears to be its author’s sardonic reaction to his own celebrity and perceived exoticism (“Strangely enough,” observes the Sherman Alexie–like narrator of the bitterly funny “Class,” “there were aphrodisiacal benefits from claiming to be descended from ritual cannibals”). A few of these tales feel like understandably unpublished early work (“South by Southwest,” a flagrantly manic farce that laboriously satirizes white liberal guilt, and “Indian Country,” about a successful writer’s cultural and sexual alienation, are especially suspect). Even at his best, Alexie doesn’t construct; he riffs: to splendid effect in “The Sin Eaters,” a rich fantasy of ethnic conflict, incest, and genocide laden with vivid literary and biblical allusions and eye-popping metaphors (“They’re going to take the tomorrow out of our bones”); “Dear John Wayne,” a cultural anthropologist’s interview with the aged Indian woman who claims she was the eponymous screen star’s lover (during the filming of The Searchers); and “Saint Junior,” a mischievous lampooning of affirmative-action programs. Alexie digs still deeper in rock-hard portrayals of a volatile “mixed” married couple (“Assimilation”); a son preparing to bid his dying father farewell (“One Good Man”); and the surprise-filled title story, about an Indian intellectual who has strayed uncomfortably away from his origins, and is reconnected with them after he picks up a menacing hitchhiker.

Alexie knows he’s contemporary literature’s “Indian du jour” (a phrase he has often used), and isn’t quite sure how he feels about it. That ambivalence gives his writing a salutary charge of energy, making him one of our most challenging, interesting, and promising young writers.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-87113-801-8

Page Count: -

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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