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The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (original 1993; edition 2005)

by Sherman Alexie

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Member:hopey86
Title:The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
Authors:Sherman Alexie
Info:Grove Press (2005), Paperback, 272 pages
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The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie (1993)

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Summary: A collection of short stories all relating to growing up on a Spokane Indian reservation.

Sherman Alexie was born in 1966 and grew up on a Spokane Indian reservation. This collection of short stories followed a critically acclaimed book of poetry, and so is one of Alexie's earliest works. In the introduction to the twentieth anniversary edition, Alexie describes these stories as "thinly disguised memoir." And to be truthful, it has that feel to it. He describes his style as "reservation realism" and in this collection one finds a mix of the starkly realistic and the fantastic.

What is starkly realistic is his portrayal of life on the reservation. Of course there is a strong web of friendships, families, kinship and love relationships. There is the sense of a people attempting to keep the core of a cultural memory together when much of its substance has been gutted. It's also a portrayal of financial destitution, un- and under-employment, fighting, government issue cheese and housing, and alcohol and substance abuse. Alexie admits that his own father was an alcoholic and that in his extended family only a dozen are currently sober and only a few that never drank.

One of the most interesting characters in this whole mix is Thomas Builds-the-Fire, who in "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix" accompanies the narrator and covers most of the cost of flying from Spokane to Phoenix to re-cover his alcoholic father's remains. Thomas is a story-teller to whom no one listens. In a subsequent story more on the fantastic, Kafka-esque side, Thomas goes on trial for his storytelling, going to prison for murder as he tells the story in first person of another Indian who had killed two soldiers a century before.

From the absurd, Alexie moves to the sad in telling the story of the death of Samuel Builds-the-Fire, a hotel maid who uses his money to pay Indian prostitutes to take the day off, is laid off, gets drunk for the first time in his life, trips and falls on railroad tracks and does not get up as an oncoming train approaches.

There is the funny and sad. The title says it all in "The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn't Flash Red Anymore." In another, the narrator talks about his father, who heard Jimi Hendrix play the "Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock, and whose son would always turn it on for him when he arrived home from a night of drinking. In "Amusements" a young couple at a carnival spot an old drunk from the reservation and load him onto a coaster, on which he rides until he comes to and gets sick to his stomach.

So much of this seems like autobiography. "Jesus Christ's Half-Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian Reservation" begins in 1966, chronicles the growing up of a boy dropped on his head (Alexie was hydrocephalic) yet has a fairly normal boyhood while the narrator plays basketball, similar to Alexie's high school self. "Junior Polatkin's Wild West Show" describes a young man who went off to Gonzaga, felt out of place and left without graduating. Alexie also went to Gonzaga, leaving after two years, although he completed a degree at Washington State.

Alexie gives us twenty-four stories that explore the life of a people displaced, consigned to make some sense of life in a world they've not chosen, fighting addictions that may have been the worst depredation of them all upon their lives. You have accounts of people who want to live, love and make their way in the world while holding onto a cultural heritage, a way of living in the world out of step with the American culture in which they are embedded. It is admittedly one perspective but it does begin to help us understand "the American experience" of these First Peoples and the stark realities of reservation life. ( )
  BobonBooks | Aug 17, 2016 |
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven contains a collection of short stories that are interconnected, all taking place on the same reservation and with various characters reappearing in multiple stories; in fact, about the first half of the book all centers around the character of Victor, although these stories alternate between first and third person points of view.

The book is sharply funny at times, but this humor is offset by the largely bleak world portrayed and peopled with pessimistic outlooks. While I found Alexie's writing beautiful, the subject matter was so depressing and almost unremittingly without hope that I'd find it difficult to wholeheartedly recommend this book. To say I "enjoyed" it would be the wrong word choice, but I am glad that I read this book. Again, Alexie's writing style is noteworthy, so that made for an overall good reading experience. But the stories touched upon so many tragedies and problems that the few hints of hope dropped on rare occasions were not enough to bolster any optimism. This is definitely not a good read if you are looking for something light and fuzzy, but the beautiful writing may win you over if you're willing to dive into some deeper themes about isolation, poverty and its negative effects, tradition versus the future, racism, and so forth. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Nov 7, 2015 |
Many of the stories are beautiful and a few hauntingly so. Unfortunately, as with all short story collections, some of the stories aren't all that good. Still, the number of good ones is larger than those that aren't, and there are a few that are more than just good. Recommended. ( )
  JWarren42 | Oct 10, 2013 |
How do you survive in a place where everyone you know, and have ever known are alcoholics and drug abusers, and you are expected to turn out no different? The book is a series of short stories following the lives of Native Americans living on the Spokane Reservation. It is especially focused on young residents struggling with their identities as Native Americans and with the addictions and alcoholism common in Spokane. Though the stories follow different characters with and have different plotlines, there are common threads through the stories that string them together in and almost continuous description of the lives of the Spokane natives. In most stories the ideas of following culture and tradition are present, along with struggles with substance abuse and most commonly, their identity as Native Americans. Another important part of the book is the idea that the past is just as much a part of who you are as where and how you are raised is. In the short story “A Drug Called Tradition” Victor states that "Your past is a skeleton walking one step behind you, and your future is a skeleton walking one step in front of you."
Because the stories are told from the points of view of different people, at varying times, the author creates a vivid description of life in the reservation for everyone. The author, Sherman Alexie, admits that while the events in the book are exaggerated, the stories are autobiographical and follow events from his own childhood. This adds a depth to the story that isn’t as common in fictional works. The story is a magnificent piece of literary works, the past and present weaving in and out of each other in a way that creates a detailed understanding of Native American culture and how it was changed by the coming of the Europeans. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a book worth reading if there ever was one, its depth and humor creating a wonderful harmony of literary magic. -M.C.
1 vote StonehamHS_Library | May 3, 2011 |
Many others have reviewed this more eloquently than I can. Suffice to say - I love Alexie's writing. His turn of phrase, his humour, his portrayal of all the heartache and institutionalised prejudices, the longing and the sorrow, take me to a place i've not ever been to before. This is good heartfelt writing, and I'd put Sherman right up there with Thom Jones and Etgar Keret as one of the finest short story writers around in recent years. I will definitely be reading more of his books. ( )
  Polaris- | Jan 26, 2011 |
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Dedication
For Bob, Dick, Mark, and Ron
For Adrian, Joy, Leslie, Simon,
and all those Native writerswhose words an music
have made mine possible
First words
Although it was winter, the nearest ocean was four hundred miles away, and the Tribal Weatherman asleep because of boredom, a hurricane dropped from the sky in 1976 and fell so hard on the Spokane Indian Reservation that it knocked Victor from bed and his latest nightmare.
Quotations
Still, Indians have a way of surviving. But it's almost like Indians can easily survive the big stuff. Mass murder, loss of language and land rights. It's the small things that hurt the most. The white waitresses who wouldn't take an order, Tonto, and the Washington ******** . ("The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn't Flash Red Any More")
...James says he knows more. He says the earth is our grandmother and that technology has become our mother and that they both hate each other. (Jesus Christ's Half Brother is Alive and Well on the Spokane Indian reservation")
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NOTE: The 20th Anniversary edition (2005 & later) is a DIFFERENT BOOK, with two additional stories.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802141676, Paperback)


When it was first published in 1993, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven established Sherman Alexie as a stunning new talent of American letters. The basis for the award-winning movie Smoke Signals, it remains one of his most beloved and widely praised books. In this darkly comic collection, Alexie brilliantly weaves memory, fantasy, and stark realism to paint a complex, grimly ironic portrait of life in and around the Spokane Indian Reservation. These twenty-two interlinked tales are narrated by characters raised on humiliation and government-issue cheese, and yet are filled with passion and affection, myth and dream. Against a backdrop of alcohol, car accidents, laughter, and basketball, Alexie depicts the distances between Indians and whites, reservation Indians and urban Indians, men and women, and, most poetically, modern Indians and the traditions of the past.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:27 -0400)

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Paints a complex, grimly ironic portrait of life in and around the Spokane Indian Reservation.

(summary from another edition)

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