War Dances by Sherman Alexie

War Dances cover

I haven’t read any Sherman Alexie since The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian back in high school, and I had forgotten how much I missed him. Another reviewer, when writing about this book, called Alexie’s work “honest”, and I think that’s really the best description of this little collection of short stories and poems (there’s even a chapter where Alexie gives us a poem he wrote about his father and then deconstructs all the lies in it). Not all the stories are fantastic, but most are lovely and sad. Especially the last one, “Salt,” which will stomp your heart into tiny little pieces and not apologize for it. I also loved the sections where an unknown interviewer asks questions, and Alexie’s responses generally ignore the question completely and create something else entirely, like this exchange in “Big Bang Theory”:

After our earliest ancestors crawled out of the oceans, how soon did they feel the desire to crawl back in?

At age nine, I stepped into the pool at the YWCA. I didn’t know how to swim, but the other Indian boys had grown salmon and eagle wings and could fly in water and sky.

Wouldn’t the crow, that ubiquitous trickster, make a more compelling and accurate national symbol for the United States than the bald eagle?

Okay, that Indian-boy salmon-and-eagle-wings transformation thing is bullshit, but I’m trying to tell a creation story here, and by definition all creation stories are bullshit. Scientifically speaking, we all descend from one man and one woman who lived in what we now call Africa – yes, we are all African at our cores – but why should we all live with the same metaphorical creation story? The Kiowa think they were created when lightening struck the mud inside a log. I think the Hopis are crash-landed aliens who are still waiting for a rescue mission. Christians think God built everything in a week – well, in six days – and then rested. Yeah, like God created the universe in anticipation of the Sunday funny pages.”

This was also my first time reading any of Alexie’s poetry, having only read his novels and short stories before, and I decided that I was in love with it after the very first poem in the book, which goes like this:

“The Limited

I saw a man swerve his car
And try to hit a stray dog,
But the quick mutt dodged
Between two parked cars

And made his escape.
God, I thought, did I just see
What I think I saw?
At the next red light,

I pulled up beside the man
And stared hard at him.
He knew that’d I seen
His murder attempt,

But he didn’t care.
He smiled and yelled loud
Enough for me to hear him
Through our closed windows:

“Don’t give me that face
Unless you’re going to do
Something about it.
Come on, tough guy,

What are you going to do?”
I didn’t do anything.
I turned right on the green.
He turned left against traffic.

I don’t know what happened
To that man or the dog,
But I drove home
And wrote this poem.

Why do poets think
They can change the world?
The only life I can save
Is my own.”

Verdict: four out of five stars

1 Comment

Filed under Review

One response to “War Dances by Sherman Alexie

  1. I just came across your blog and already I’m hooked! So looking forward to reading more of your wonderful posts. I wish you so much success with your personal creative journey. Peace and blessings, Michele

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