Sherman Alexie, a gifted poet and storyteller, plows familiar yet fertile ground in his third collection of short stories, Ten Little Indians
. The book contains nine stories populated by at least one American Indian (usually of Alexie's Spokane heritage, and mostly living in Seattle), but "little" is a bit of a misnomer; the book addresses human (not necessarily Indian), rituals, ceremony, love, loss, insecurity over life choices, and personal sacrifices. A lot of intense basketball is played, too.
When Alexie is at his best, his stories function at a profoundly sad level, where broken down characters are broken down even more, but are fierce-willed enough to attempt Phoenix-like transitions. Unfortunately, the weakest stories appear first, where characters and situations seem far too contrived or forced, the dialogue wooden, and questions or exclamatory sentences appear annoyingly in bunches. In the last half of the book, a married couple, once intensely in love but now lost in life's routines, deal with infidelity ("Do You Know Where I Am?"); a bright basketball prospect attempts a comeback--twenty years after giving up the game ("Whatever Happened to Frank Snake Church?"); and a transient Indian finds his grandmother's regalia in a pawn shop and seeks to quickly raise the lofty purchase price ("What You Pawn I Will Redeem"). Brilliant turns of phrase abound, such as ceremonies being "pitiful cries to a disinterested God," or when a gym rat plays against "Basketball-Democrats who came to the court alone and ran with anybody and Basketball-Republicans who traveled in groups of five and only ran with each other." Ten Little Indians is an uneven collection, but contains some significant, memorable stories. --Michael Ferch
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From Publishers Weekly
Fluent, exuberant and supremely confident, this outstanding collection shows Alexie (The Toughest Indian in the World, etc.) at the height of his powers. Humor plays a leading role in the volume's nine stories, but it's love, both romantic and familial, that is the lens through which Alexie examines his compelling characters. His range stretches from the strange to the poignantly antic. In "Can I Get a Witness" an Indian woman is caught inside a restaurant when a suicide bomber blows himself up; in "Do Not Go Gentle" a father buys a vibrator dubbed "Chocolate Thunder" and uses it as a spiritual talisman to successfully bring his seriously injured baby out of a coma. In one of the book's finest stories, "The Search Engine," Corliss Joseph, an intrepid 19-year-old Spokane Indian college student, finds an obscure 1973 volume of Indian poetry and tracks down the author, an aging forklift operator with painful memories of his foray into the literary world. Basketball looms large in a number of these stories, from the thoughtful "Lawyer's League" to the superb final entry, "What Ever Happened to Frank Snake Church?" Loose, jaunty and salted with long, hilarious, inspired riffs-"What kind of life had she created for herself? She was a laboratory mouse lost in the capitalistic maze. She was an underpaid cow paying one-tenth mortgage on a three-bedroom, two-bath abattoir"-these are still cohesive, powerful narratives, expanding on Alexie's continuing theme of what it means to be an Indian culturally, politically and personally. This is a slam dunk collection sure to score with readers everywhere.
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