Sherman Alexie’s “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”

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I love short story collections. Whenever possible, I try to read a story (or a collection) by any given author before I take on one of their novels. The unique feature of short story collections is that they have the potential to exist in a quantum state of both really good and kind of shitty, without collapsing into the waveform of OK. Sherman Alexie’s collection, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, is not OK, nor is it kind of shitty or really good. It’s all of those things. Some of the stories (“What it Means to say Phoenix, Arizona”, “Flight” and “The Approximate Size of my Favorite Tumor”) are memorable and stand up even better on a second reading, but at least half of the other stories do nothing for me.

There’s something encouraging to the act of reading about reading short stories. If one is bad, you generally just have to slog through a dozen or so pages before something new starts. This works the other way, too. When something is working you measure out those seconds like the last of the milk when you won’t have time to go shopping until the next day, savoring and delighting in it more than usual because its scarceness has made it that much more valuable.

I certainly liked the book, but I can’t say I’ll be buying everything he’s written. some of the stories are compelling and I love the black humor that pervades everything, but the prose seems unfinished and loose. I love his podcast and I like the stories; hell, I’d recommend this book to anyone who might ask, but I wish it had made me want to check out his other stuff.

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2 comments

  1. You’ll probably be frustrated with his other books as well, I would guess. I liked this collection of stories perhaps more than you did, but I’ve been disappointed by some of his other books (specifically Indian Killer and Toughest Indian in the World). I think his style works well for the YA novel he did The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. I also liked Reservation Blues, which shares characters from Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. If you do decide to try more Alexie, I’d recommend one of those.

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