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Sherman Alexie: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

This isn’t really a novel. Well, actually, it isn’t a novel at all but rather a set of linked stories that makes it sort of novel-like. Basically, it is a series of stories about life on an Indian reservation but told with wit and charm, while not forgetting the anguish and agony many of them have to endure. This anguish means alcoholism, unemployment or poor employment, loss of cultural traditions and all the aggravations they suffer at the hands of the Whites. Thomas-Builds-A-Fire is a case in point. He has A storytelling fetish, accompanied by an extreme need to tell the truth. He also decides to remain silent for a long period (nearly twenty years!). He first speaks – but barely, to defend himself – when he is arraigned on court on murder charges – for murdering soldiers who killed Indians in the middle of the nineteenth century. He ends up being sentenced to life imprisonment. As Alexie is pointing out, the Indian’s customs – in this case the story-telling – are being eroded, while he is still paying for the white man’s cruelty to his people. If you are white, you should feel more than a tinge of guilt reading Alexie, but you should also enjoy humorous and beautifully written stories about people – a different people – trying to survive in an alien world but only just managing to do so.

Publishing history

First published 1993 by Atlantic Monthly Press