Over the last decade Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian Sherman Alexie has busily made a name for himself as both a writer and an uncompromising advocate for Native American concerns. His dozen or so novels, short-story collections, volumes of poetry, and screenplays have dealt with historic and contemporary oppression of Indians, the quest for identity, the pitfalls of intimate relationships, tension between parents and children, and alcoholism and drug abuse. In his latest collection, Ten Little Indians (Grove Press), his characters’ struggles with these and other issues are compounded by the unsettling conditions of life in post-September 11 America. Despite their often serious subject matter, however, the nine stories are breezy and stamped with Alexie’s trademark sense of humor. In “Flight Patterns” a successful salesman feels disconnected from his roots because he buys salmon in a restaurant rather than fishing for it, and recounts his discomfort when fellow travelers eye his dark skin warily. In “Can I Get a Witness?” an Indian survivor of a suicide bombing reveals her estrangement from her superpatriotic white husband and their twin sons to the white stranger that tries to help her. In “The Search Engine” a female Spokane Indian college student takes a bus to Seattle to find a long-lost fellow tribesman and poet who’d been given up by his birth mother. The poet sums up the conflict inherent in trying to maintain a multicultural identity: “The thing is, the two best, the two most honorable and loyal people in my life are my white mother and my white father. So, you tell me, kid, what kind of Indian does that make me?” Alexie will give a talk and read from Ten Little Indians at 6 PM on Tuesday, July 8, at the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton, 312-255-3700.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Rob Casey.