Wednesday, February 19, 2014

War Dances by Sherman Alexie

"So, like I was saying, as that owl was just about to smash into our winshield, it slanted its wings, and slanted up into the dark...And I said something like, "That was magnificent," and my girlfriend - you know what she said? She said, "I'm breaking up with you because you are not an owl."

"Yeah, it was on Okinawa, an we hit the beach, and well, it's hard to talk about it - it was the worst thing...I'm not a poet - so I don't have the words - but just think of it this way - that beach, that island - was filled with sons and fathers - men who loved and were loved - American and Japanese and Okinawan - and all of us were dying - were being killed by other sons and fathers who also loved and were loved."

I am in love with Sherman Alexie. His laughing face with his long hair flowing is one of the hand-made posters that hang up in my classroom. I teach "Indian Education" basically every year in every grade that I can get away with it. "Hey Victor" is something I say sometimes to people not named Victor when I want to have an inside joke with myself. In spite of all this, I have only read two of his books - The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (one of the books on my comps list that was not discussed at all much to my sadness) and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. I recommend both of them all the time to everyone. I need more Alexie in my life, and this came to me in pristine condition from Goodwill. It is his most recent work (from 2009) and is a collection of short stories and poems.

This collection has a few different narrators, including an American Indian named George Wilson who accidentally kills a black teenager, a white senator's son, an ethnicity-free Paul Nonetheless, and Sherwin Polatkin whose surname will be familiar to anyone who has read his other works. It's great to see stories that stray from his feels-very-autobiographical works and that are still delicious and wonderful. This collection is very much focused on masculine experiences and men's relationships with their girlfriends, wives, sons, and fathers.

One line in the book gave me utter joy above all else. 

"Frankly," my doctor said. "Your brain is beautiful."

I couldn't say where I picked up the expression, but 'beautiful brain' is something that I use often enough that a student once doodled this in her warmup notebook. (That was a very accurate depiction of what I used to look like). 

If you've never read Alexie before, I would recommend one of his more popular books to start with - not because this one isn't good, but because the other two are AMAZING and much more typical of what people associate with his writing style and content. 

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