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War Dances Paperback – August 3, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 66 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

From National Book Award–winner Alexie comes a new collection of stories, poems, question and answer sequences, and hybrids of all three and beyond. In a penetrating voice that mixes humor with anger, Alexie pointedly asks, If it is true that children pay for the sins of their fathers, then is it also true that fathers pay for the sins of their children? Many of the stories revolve around the complexities of fatherhood; in the title story, the Native American narrator recalls his alcoholic father's death as he confronts his own mortality, and The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless is the tale of an eccentric vintage clothing salesman whose sexual attraction to his wife fades following the birth of their children. The collection also contains stirring defenses of artistic integrity; Fearful Symmetry is an incisive account of working as a young screenwriter for a Hollywood studio, and the poem Ode to Mix Tapes endorses hard work as the key ingredient behind any creation. Alexie unfurls highly expressive language, and while at times his jokes bomb and the characters' anger can feel forced, overall this is a spiritedly provocative array of tragic comedies. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Sherman Alexie is not a finicky writer. He is often messy and in-your-face in a way that can make you laugh (or shudder) when you least expect to. . . . War Dances is Alexie’s fiercely freewheeling collection of stories and poems about the tragicomedies of ordinary lives.” —O, the Oprah Magazine

“Alexie has a wry, subversive sensibility. . . . The structure [in War Dances] is sophisticated yet playful, a subtle way to bring lightness to heavy topics such as senility, bigotry, cancer, and loneliness. . . . A mix tape of a book, with many voices, pieces of different length, shifting rhythms, an evolving story.”—Los Angeles Times

“Smart modern stories interspersed with witty and deep-feeling verse.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Sherman Alexie mixes up comedy and tragedy, shoots it through with tenderness, then delivers with a provocateur’s don’t-give-a-damn flourish. He’s unique, and his new book, War Dances, is another case in point.”—Seattle Times

“Alexie’s works are piercing yet rueful. He writes odes to anguished pay-phone calls, to boys who would drive through blizzards to see a girl, to couples who need to sit together on airplane flights even though the computer thinks otherwise. . . . [A] marvelous collection.”Miami Herald

War Dances taps every vein and nerve, every tissue, every issue that quickens the current blood-pulse: parenthood, divorce, broken links, sex, gender and racial conflict, substance abuse, medical neglect, 9/11, Official Narrative vs. What Really Happened, settler religion vs. native spirituality, marketing, shopping, and war, war, war. All the heartbreaking ways we don’t live now—this is the caring, eye-opening beauty of this rollicking, bittersweet gem of a book.” —PEN/Faulkner judge Al Young

“Few other contemporary writers seem willing to deal with issues of race, class, and sexuality as explicitly as Alexie . . . [“War Dances” is] a virtuoso performance of wit and pathos, a cultural and familial critique and a son’s quiet, worthless scream against the night as his father expires . . . [that] reminds me of the early 20th Century master of the short form Akutagawa Riyunosuke. . . . Yet again Sherman Alexie has given us a hell of a ride.”—Barnes & Noble Reviews

"War Dances is maybe the most personal book Alexie has ever published, and it’s certainly one of his most readable. The closest thing to a historical precedent for this book is Palm Sunday, Kurt Vonnegut’s wildly entertaining self-described ‘autobiographical collage’ of anecdotes, fiction, reminiscences, and other work. . . . Each piece firmly builds on some part of the other, like the songs on a good mix tape. . . . The asymmetrical collection on display in War Dances works as a supremely gratifying reading experience.”—The Stranger

“Penetrating . . . Alexie unfurls highly expressive language . . . [in] this spiritedly provocative array of tragic comedies.”—Publishers Weekly

“Encounter [Alexie’s work] once and you’ll never forget it.”—Library Journal

“Alexie is at his best in this collection of hilarious and touching stories.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“[With War Dances], Sherman Alexie enhances his stature as a multitalented writer and an astute observer of life among Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest. . . . [An] edgy and frequently surprising collection.”—Bookpage

“Remarkable . . . Wonderful . . . [Alexie’s] work reveals both the light and dark within native American life. A paradox in his writing is that you can be in the middle of delighted laughter when he will hit you with a sentence so true to the core of a character’s pain that you suck your breath or are startled to realize you are crying.”—The Globe and Mail

“Alexie is a master storyteller whose prose is laced with metaphoric realities of life, mixed with triumph and tragedy. . . . War Dances is vintage Alexie . . . [and] should be savored. . . . Fans will not be disappointed.”—The Grand Rapids Press

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (August 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802144896
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802144898
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Steven E. Pomper on January 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
War Dances by Sherman Alexie
Grove Press, 209 pp.

Sherman Alexie is as interesting a person as he is a writer. A few years back I heard him do an interview with national conservative talk show host, and Seattle-based, Michael Medved. Although Alexie declared himself somewhat left on the political spectrum, I found him to be one of the most delightful (and I'm not a guy who uses that word often, but it fits) interviews I've ever heard. While so many folks, on both sides can sound downright mean, Alexie is honest, self-deprecating, insightful, and quite funny.

Why did I start this review of War Dances with a review of Alexie's interview prowess? Well, because I found many of the reasons I liked the book are the same reasons I'd liked the interview. While at times I laughed, saddened, and even winced, I was sucked in by every word.

While the stories appear to be "all over the place," you sense there is a common thread running through the stories--and there is. And these are stories that feel so real the fact they're fiction, often feels vice versa. So real. And for me, as a Seattle cop, my day job, it rang incredibly real in one particular story.

A father is home alone, in Seattle's Central District, (my beat) working as a freelance film editor. There's a knock at the door at three in the afternoon. Determining that no one of any worth comes to anyone's door at that time of day, he ignores the knock and returns to his work. A minute or two later he hears a window break, and confronts a burglar who's broken in. The remainder of the story is fascinating, but I can tell you this specific type of burglary, this M.O., Modus Operandi, is unfortunately way too common in the neighborhood Alexie describes.
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Format: Hardcover
Blending short stories, bits of prose and poems, this new collection by Sherman Alexie is too short a read. The book feels sketchy, as if a sculptor sat down with a sketch pad, and drew exercises intended for later use. But the sketches are no less beautiful for it. Sherman Alexie's voice makes the bitter "I", sweet--well, mostly. The Short story "Ballad of Paul Nonetheless" is like something from the Savage Love podcast--a man stuck in his own lens. Another short story, "War Dances", links fragments reflecting fear, grief, and love --the last few lines are the best--anger, tears and laughter--such economy. "Breaking and Entering" written in staccato--so much so that I could not remember the stories content after the first read, details blurred in the jumbled confusion, I had to read it again. I liked it more the first time around, before digesting the ugly details. "Salt"--beautiful story and out of the bunch feels the most whole. The collection reminds me, `if the guilt doesn't get you, the shame will'. And maybe that is as it should be. If you're already a Sherman Alexie reader, you'll probably enjoy this book. If you've never read his work, I would suggest you start with one of his other books, like The Toughest Indian in the World (short stories) or The Business of fancy dancing (poetry) and read War Dances after you've read all his other adult works.
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Format: Hardcover
_War Dances_ is a mixed bag of Alexie's short stories and poetry. There are gems and glimpses of the brilliance that one expects from Alexie: "Fearful Symmetry" about a writer's screenplay that sufferes a death of a thousand cuts as the producer, director and corporate pointy-heads transform art into schlocky, formulaic "entertainment" and "the poem "Another Proclimation" are the strongest pieces. But intermingled are stories and poems that feel as if Alexie phoned them in. The result is an uneven reading.

There is a rhythm to the collection as successive stories and poems are loosely related and connected to each other - a story about a traveling salesman's repeated connections with another traveler ("The Balland of Pual Nonetheless") preceeds the poem "On Airplanes"; the poem "The Theology of Reptiles," introduces the short story "Catechism", about the Coeur 'd Alene and their conversion to Catholcism (and the underlying issues of Native assimilation so common to Alexie's work.) This formula works as each piece is interrelated with the next, a way of preparing the palatte for the next course.

The themes common to Alexie - alienation, guilt, the struggle of identity and wrestling with one's personal (and historic) past are all here, and all have the semi-autobiograhical feel that is indicitive of his earlier work. Fans of Alexie will not be disappointed; he is a great writer. For those who aren't familiar with his work, my recommendation for a first read would be The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. There are nuggets of brilliance in this collection, but it was too uneven to warrant five stars.
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Format: Hardcover
I'll second Elena's review: This feels incomplete. Not only that- it is too short. Not in a "this book is 700 pages long and I'd like to have it go on for 500 more, it's THAT great" way, but rather in a "Wow, so now the best way to make a living of writing books is to split one book into three short ones". Too short ones. But hey, you can say "I have published 30 books!"
I also realized that there is an overexposure problem going on here: The book consists of something like six or seven short stories longer than 2 pages and poems in between. I believe I had read two of those poems before in newspapers or magazines (New Yorker?) and heard two more on NPR...
I liked the poems much better than the short stories. I really enjoyed them.
The short stories all 'climaxed' too soon. They felt like complete hit and run affairs. Not "shock and awe", more "what? you're done already?"
Of the short stories, I liked "catechism" best (I believe that was in the New Yorker too). The "Senator's Son" story just didn't add up. Very contrived with dialogue like from a "among the rich people" telenovela.
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