Archive for March, 2008

Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie

Posted in Fiction, Literature, Native American on March 29, 2008 by muerta

I have fallen in love with this author.  While this essay is not edited through all the way, figured I would post it in its crude form, given the entry below it:

Earlier this semester, the class examined the short story “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona” by Sherman Alexie.  This short story introduced the characters Thomas Builds-The-Fire and Victor Joseph as the two travel to Phoenix and pick up the ashes of Victor’s deceased father.  In the process, the two reexamine and rediscover themselves, returning to the reservation with hope but also without hope or a future.  The story suggests a strained relationship between the two and hints of deeper roots.  So, already intrigued by the characters and at the suggestion of a classmate, I chose Option #4 and read “Reservation Blues” by Sherman Alexie.

 

The story starts with the arrival of a great Blues player seeking a woman who appears in his dreams.  Robert Johnson, who faked his death in 1938, came seeking assistance from his curse; he had made a deal with the Devil and needed redemption.  Thomas Builds-The-Fire finds Robert, assumes he is seeking Big Mom, and delivers him.  However, in the process, inherits the cursed guitar which ends up in the hands of Victor Joseph who unknowingly accepts a Devil’s deal, and with their third friend, Junior Polatkin, form the band, Coyote Springs.  And so begins their story as they seek fame and fortune outside the desolate Spokane Reservation.  Joined by two Flathead Indians, Chess and Checkers, and eventually traveling to New York City for a possible record deal, their adventures go beyond self-exploration but delve deep into the issues of spirituality, abandonment, and the frustration and unfufillment of being Native American, poor, and an outcast historically, tribally, family, and psychically. 

 

Sherman Alexie brings the beauty of life to us through the eyes of Thomas while he shows us the paths of self-destruction through Victor.  Alexie allows us to see how despite all the negativity that has happened to Thomas, he still tries to love and heal those around him.  Victor becomes the angry warrior without a way of counting coupe, or as Big Mom puts it “when are Indians ever going to have heroes that don’t hurt anyone?”  The author shows us how so many on the reservation live between welfare check to welfare check, choosing a path of religion or alcohol, and merely spend each day in limbo as if time did not exist on the reservation and its only the rest of the world that moves forward. 

 

In Alexie’s short story, “This is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona,” there is mention of a fight that occurs that between Victor and Thomas when they are younger.  In “Reservation Blues,” we find out that Victor and Junior assault Thomas and literally push his face into setting concrete, leaving a permanent impression of Thomas’s face in the cement outside Trading Post.  Thus, Thomas claims the sidewalk as his, and is often found sitting in this area.  While the short story merely alludes to the conflict, it is surprising to discover the brutality of the fight and yet, Thomas is still willing to help Victor go to Phoenix and later form the band.

 

Big Mom is symbolically Time for the reservation.  Having seen the Army troops slowly slaughter the horses of the tribe to teaching musical greats such as Benny Goodman and Jimi Hendrix, she represents what was the musical start of the reservation—the screams of the horses while they were shot one at a time by the American Military, the Great White Father, and the government for which the current Spokane People rely upon for their commodities, their welfare checks, and their homes.  While Victor and Junior do not believe in Big Mom, Thomas Builds-The-Fire does, and so when the band eventually travels to visit Big Mom for her guidance (as she is a self-declared music teacher), conflict results within the band regarding her guidance.  But through it all is the possessed guitar in Victor’s hands, and he is given the choice of either fame and fortune or self-destruction.  His choice changes the outcome of everyone for better or worse, but one thing is for certain, Coyote Springs can not remain on the reservation any longer.

 

In the story, these slaughtered Indian horses scream every time life on reservation is confirmed. 

 

“Thomas,” said Chess, “if you don’t want to be famous and have your stories heard, then why did you start the band up?”

 

“I heard voices,” Thomas said.  “I guess I heard voices.  I mean, I’m sort of a liar, enit?  I like the attention.  I want strangers to love me.  I don’t even know why.  But I want all kinds of strangers to love me.”

 

The Indian horses screamed.

 

Thomas was not seeking strangers loving him, but merely to be loved and accepted by someone, somewhere.  He was seeking his place in a world where there was no place for him.  The Indian horses screamed because as long as he stayed there, Thomas would never find what he so desperately wanted.  But Thomas did not control the possessed guitar, but rather by Victor.  And his darkest wish remains unknown.  As the symbolism of the horses screaming is not present when this wish becomes evident, it merely emphasizes Alexie’s point of the hopelessness of reservation life.

 

Throughout the story, there are a number of subplots as each character seeks their own path and destiny, and the reader learns how their pasts lead to their present.  The author brilliantly intertwines each of the characters and their pasts, their dreams, their horrors, and even draws upon the Jungian collective unconscious of Spokane Indian history as each member of the Coyote Springs find themselves facing the destruction of the Spokane freedom and applying it to their own life choices.  The ripples of each subplot add to the story in unexpected ways, and bring the reader deeper into the frustration of the forced life of the reservation, and everyone’s longing for freedom.  

 

Sherman Alexie does not sugarcoat reservation life nor does he make the Indians these mystical modern day carriers of wisdom and gaeaian spirituality, but rather as humans, with human needs and desires, in world where learned helplessness has been forced upon a previously self-sufficient tribe.  However, the story that he tells is an accurate one of anyone seeking to better there life, despite the unfortunate events that hold one back from reaching outward.  The author adds, however, be careful what you wish for because while it may come true, it comes true at the Devil’s price unless you are willing to be responsible for the dream that you desire.

 

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Posted in Fiction on March 22, 2008 by Shawna

For someone who doesn’t like YA books, I’ve been reading a lot of them lately. This is another one. It was loaned to me by my neighbor and dear friend, Cobra. This book strikes close to home, since I live in SD, near an Indian Reservation. The main character of the book is Junior. He is a cartoonist so the book is filled with his cartoons. He lives on an Indian reservation but decides he needs a better education and transfers to a “white” school near-by.  This causes him all kinds of problems at home and at school. The subject matter is very depressing but it is written in a funny and “real” way. This is a good book that I think any teenage boy would enjoy and also relate to. I’m not sure if the book is listed as fiction or non-fiction but I’m going to go with non!

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Posted in Fiction on March 22, 2008 by Shawna

I’m not a big fan of YA books, for example Harry Potter, yawn. I can see why this book is popular among teens right now, especially the Emo kids.  The only other vampire book that I’ve read was an Anne Rice, and I can’t even remember the name of it. So I did not have much to compare it to.

I did like Ms. Meyer’s description of Edward’s family and her ideas about how they came to be vampires.  I thought it was interesting that some of them had special gifts and some familes were not as civilized as other clans.  I really thought it was a great that Edward’s family did not eat humans.

I did not think it was believable that Bella’s mother would want her daughter to move from Az to Wa during her high school years, just so the mother could run off with a guy. It almost seemed like author had to go back and add all of the accidents and Bella’s clumsiness so she could wrap up the book.  It wasn’t a very deep book and it wasn’t a bad book.

It was a quick read, so that’s a plus. I have no desire to read New Moon or Eclipse but did buy Eclipse as an Easter present for my 15 year old step-daughter.

The God Of Animals by Aryn Kyle

Posted in Fiction on March 22, 2008 by Shawna

As I am thinking back on this book, I cannot remember how the title ties into the novel.  I really like it when I figure out where the title came from in a book.  Generally speaking, it seems like all the way through the book, horses are the God of all the animals, until the end, then we see that, of course, humans are the Gods of the animals. 

 This was a coming of age story about a girl named, Alice.  It was set in the mid-west on a horse ranch.  Most of the book took place in the barn, cleaning the stalls, caring for the horses and learning to ride the horses for rodeos.  I don’t know very much about horses so this book was very educational for me.  Horses are such intelligent animals that also seem to have a range of emotion. 

Ms. Kyle did an excellent job of developing the characters.  Alice, the main character, was likable and complex.  Her mother had severe depression and spent most of the book in her bed.  The dad was a hard worker, but no matter what they still remained poor. There was an English Teacher who was inappropriate. There was an older sister who is magical on a horse but gets married to a rodeo star so she can leave the life on the ranch.  There are the rich ladies who take lessons, board their horses at the ranch and have affairs with fathers. And then there are the horses, each with a personality of their own.

The book had good examples of the different socioeconomical classes in America.  There is also the exploration of young love (sigh).

 This is a well written, haunting, first novel.  It is a very smart book that I could not find a single flaw with. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a book that is difficult to put down.

Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , , , , on March 22, 2008 by Lisa

(crossposted from Books. Lists. Life.)

One day last weekend while I was confined to my chair by the weight of a lethargic almost-three-year-old I was faced with the problem of having no book within reach. My laptop was here, but I’d already read all of the internets. So I did the unthinkable, I asked my husband to choose a book for me. I should have known better. My husband reads as much as I do, but our tastes very rarely overlap. He has a strong preference for non-fiction, specifically relating to WWII, Mt. Everest, business, and baseball. He is often saying things like, “you should read this one, it’s really good!” and I say, “Sure dear, one day.” Well, that day finally came.

The book he handed me was Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis. Now, we have entire shelves devoted to baseball. We watch a lot of games. It is hard to live in this house and NOT pick up on some of the names and facts. So this book didn’t come as a complete and total shock. I’d heard bits and pieces of it before. Regardless, it’s sat on the shelf for a couple of years while I said “Sure dear, one day.”

The short version of what the books is about is: it’s about how the Oakland As continue to win despite having the second lowest payroll in MLB. The long version is: oh my god there are some SERIOUS baseball geeks out there (and I’m married to one of them.) See, Oakland realized that if they didn’t do something different that they didn’t stand a chance against teams like the Yankees who have huge bankrolls. There was no way they were going to be able to buy star power. They had to find a way to work with what they could afford and still have a winning team.

They start by not listening to the scouts. They needed an all new way. They hired Harvard grads and stock traders and analysts who knew how to read the numbers. They didn’t go with “wow, he looks great” but rather “THIS stat is the one that directly correlates to wins. Who can do THAT?” When they lost s great player they carefully determined how to go about replacing what he really meant to the team. There are entire chapters devoted to single players (ie Jason Giambi). It talks about why pitching isn’t the most important factor, as I believed. There is a chapter devoted to Bill James, who is near unto a god at my house.

I wasn’t surprised that I found this interesting. I mean, it’s hard to live with baseball as much as I do and not be a little interested. I was surprised to find it entertaining. It’s really easy to read (except when it’s NOT because it does go a little over my head in places.) My only complaint is that occasionally there was a sentence in need of an editor. I don’t claim to be the world’s best at grammar- I can’t use a comma correctly to save my life- but there were way too many instances where the sentence was missing something vital- like the verb- or where the clauses didn’t match up or something. (Please note this lovely sentence I have crafted to describe my complaint!) Overall, thumbs up. If you (or someone you love) is obsessed with baseball I’d recommend reading this one.

TBR Challenge –My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding Edited by P.N. Elrod (2006)

Posted in Fiction, Gina, Short Story, TBR Challenge with tags , , , , , on March 19, 2008 by Gina

I have joined a challenge. Avid Reader over at avidbookreader.com is hosting this TBR Challenge. Here’s what you do.  You read books from your TBR pile and review them on the 3rd Wed of each month.  Everyone who participates each month now until Dec gets entered into a drawing for a $100 gift card.

My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding is a collection of nine short stories.  Short stories aren’t my favorite writing medium.  I find that authors typically try to tell too much story and end up not writing it thoroughly enough.  However, I do like reading collections like this one because it introduces me to new authors and lets me sort of test drive them.  I was ultimately disappointed in the book.  There are nine stories in the collection.  My favorite was Lori Handeland’s Charmed by the Moon.  I really thought that she did a nice job of keeping the number of characters proportioned correctly for the length of the story.  I didn’t feel like the characters got short-changed at all.  I felt there was more story to tell afterwards without feeling like the author just left me hanging.  While I enjoyed Sherrilyn Kenyon’s A Hard Day’s Night-Searcher, I felt that the Rafael and Celena’s story was told in too hasty of a manner.  I fell in love with the characters but their story was finished too completely in this short story.  I enjoy reading Charlaine Harris and Rachel Caine.  Their entries were good but did not live up to expectation.  I had to force myself to finish three of the nine stories.  I won’t recommend this particular book to my friends as it fell short of my high expectations.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

Posted in Fiction, General, Gina with tags , , on March 11, 2008 by Gina

I found the story to be intriguing.  In 1964, David, a doctor, is forced due to a snowstorm to deliver his baby in the doctor’s office.  His son was born perfect but an unexpected daughter was born with Down Syndrome.  To save his wife pain, David gives his daughter to the nurse to institutionalize while telling Norah, his wife, that the baby was dead.  The nurse, Caroline, doesn’t leave the newborn at the institution but instead flees to another city to raise the girl as her own.  The rest of the book is the characters dealing with the impact of that split second decision of a grieving father.  The story is beautiful, but the book fell flat with me.  The writing was very good.  The story was one that the climax happened at the beginning and the rest of the book was the fallout of that one decision.  However, I found that there just wasn’t enough emotion.  I felt that I, as the reader, should have been more involved in the character’s lives than I was allowed.  Thus I felt the character development to be inferior.  I felt there were too many secrets between the main characters and the reader.   We should have been more aware of David’s obsession with his photographs.  We should have been more involved in Caroline and Phoebe’s lives.  I really just felt disconnected from the characters.  I realize that it may have been Ms. Edwards intention to show the disconnect between all of the characters, but it just didn’t work well for me.   The ending was too pretty for me.  It just didn’t feel real.  I enjoyed reading it, but it didn’t compel to me to dig further.  After reading it, I didn’t ponder it at all.