Book Review: Readings

Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie will be at BookPeople on Monday, July 21, at 7pm.
Sherman Alexie will be at BookPeople on Monday, July 21, at 7pm.

Ten Little Indians

by Sherman Alexie

Grove Press, 243 pp., $24

Sherman Alexie might be going soft. Underneath the humor and adept storytelling of his previous novels and short-story collections was always a thin line of rage. But now in his latest, Ten Little Indians, he's working with hope and redemption. Not that the subject matter is all that cheery. The nine short stories are populated by Spokane Indians living in and around Seattle, and there is plenty of terrorism, dying babies, alcoholism, father-son issues, and homelessness to go around.

The hope springs from the theme of family running throughout. Families struggle to stay together, and families fall apart. In "Do Not Go Gentle," a father wielding as a talisman a giant dildo called "Chocolate Thunder" watches over his dying infant child. A wife's infidelity threatens to break apart a marriage in "Do You Know Where I Am?" In the harshest of the stories, "Can I Get a Witness?," a woman walks away from a terrorist attack hoping that her husband and sons think she has died. When writing about a woman who hates her children, it's a thin line between making her believable and making her completely unsympathetic. The strength of this book lies in the characters. Alexie writes them with such compassion that even if they abandon their children, it becomes understandable.

September 11 keeps creeping up here, but not in a flag-waving sort of way. One character rails against the media's assertion that the victims in the World Trade Center were all innocents, and an Indian in "Flight Patterns" finds himself searched at every airport, a consequence of his nonwhiteness. "Maybe William should have worn beaded vests when he traveled. Maybe he should have thrown casino chips into the crowd." It's refreshing for an author to mention the attacks and not to hear "The Star-Spangled Banner" playing in the background.

The only real problem with Ten Little Indians is its poor organization, with two of the weaker stories right up front, making the collection slow to get into. There is only one work that makes you wonder how it found inclusion: "The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above." With its quirky lists, precocious structure, and pointless style tricks, it feels like Alexie was desperate for acceptance in McSweeney's. Otherwise, he mostly tackles big issues, with one story including a suicide bomber and several others dealing in racism, but as opposed to some of his earlier efforts, it never feels as if he's preaching. There's still anger, but the author has also mastered subtlety, giving that anger softer edges.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Book Reviews
<i>Presidio</i> by Randy Kennedy
Presidio by Randy Kennedy
For his debut novel, Kennedy creates a road story that portrays the harsh West Texas terrain beautifully and fills it with sympathetic characters.

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 14, 2018

Hunting the Golden State Killer in <i>I'll Be Gone in the Dark</i>
Hunting the Golden State Killer in I'll Be Gone in the Dark
How Michelle McNamara tracked a killer before her untimely death

Jonelle Seitz, July 20, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Ten Little Indians, Sherman Alexie, Grove Press

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle