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 A few of these tales feel like understandably unpublished early work (“South by Southwest,” a flagrantly manic farce that laboriously satirizes white liberal guilt, and “Indian Country,” about a successful writer’s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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Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

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A gathering of short stories by an ascended master of the form.

Best known for mega-bestselling horror yarns, King (Finders Keepers, 2015, etc.) has been writing short stories for a very long time, moving among genres and honing his craft. This gathering of 20 stories, about half previously published and half new, speaks to King’s considerable abilities as a writer of genre fiction who manages to expand and improve the genre as he works; certainly no one has invested ordinary reality and ordinary objects with as much creepiness as King, mostly things that move (cars, kid’s scooters, Ferris wheels). Some stories would not have been out of place in the pulp magazines of the 1940s and ’50s, with allowances for modern references (“Somewhere far off, a helicopter beats at the sky over the Gulf. The DEA looking for drug runners, the Judge supposes”). Pulpy though some stories are, the published pieces have noble pedigrees, having appeared in places such as Granta and The New Yorker. Many inhabit the same literary universe as Raymond Carver, whom King even name-checks in an extraordinarily clever tale of the multiple realities hidden in a simple Kindle device: “What else is there by Raymond Carver in the worlds of Ur? Is there one—or a dozen, or a thousand—where he quit smoking, lived to be 70, and wrote another half a dozen books?” Like Carver, King often populates his stories with blue-collar people who drink too much, worry about money, and mistrust everything and everyone: “Every time you see bright stuff, somebody turns on the rain machine. The bright stuff is never colorfast.” Best of all, lifting the curtain, King prefaces the stories with notes about how they came about (“This one had to be told, because I knew exactly what kind of language I wanted to use”). Those notes alone make this a must for aspiring writers.

Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1167-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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