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Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie

Indian Killer (original 1996; edition 1996)

by Sherman Alexie

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1,2402110,295 (3.79)85
The plight of John Smith, an Indian stolen as a baby from his parents and brought up by whites. Angry because he has no roots he joins the street people, becoming a suspect when Seattle is hit by a serial killer who scalps his all-white victims. By the author of Reservation Blues.
Title:Indian Killer
Authors:Sherman Alexie
Info:Atlantic Monthly Press, New York, Uncorrected Manuscript (1996), Edition: First Printing, Paperback
Collections:Your library

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Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie (1996)


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Seattle is brought to the brink of a race war as a killer kidnaps and murders white men, scalping them and leaving behind owl feathers. As racial tension is stoked, we see events unfolding through the eyes of a number of characters, including but not limited to: John, a man of Native American descent but adopted into a Caucasian family and now suffering badly from mental illness; Marie, a Native American college student who is happy to have left the reservation but is still fighting for indigenous rights and causes; Jack, a Caucasian ex-cop who claims to have Native American roots and now writes mystery novels featuring a Native detective; and Truck, a Caucasian talkshow host who spews hatred and racism to get more listeners.

With this novel, I thought Alexie wrote a compelling book with interesting characters. The characters are believable; none are perfect and indeed there are very few clear-cut "good guys" and "bad guys." Seeing from many perspectives allowed that point to sink in ever further. You might despise a character for their violence in one chapter, but in another you have some sympathy for their grief. Understandably given the gist of the book, Alexie brings up a lot about race, including identity and stereotyping. There are no easy answers here either, and again, no one comes out looking good.

I very much enjoyed this book as a thought-provoking yet entertaining read. The prose is beautiful and accessible. The only reason I didn't rate it higher is because I wasn't a huge fan of how open-ended the conclusion was. After 400+ pages, I wanted a little more closure than I got. Still, it was an interesting enough book that I would recommend it. ( )
  sweetiegherkin | Jan 18, 2018 |
"Dr. Mather, if the Ghost Dance worked, there would be no exceptions. All you white people would disappear. All of you. If those dead Indians came back to life, they wouldn't crawl into a sweathouse with you. They wouldn't smoke the pipe with you. They wouldn't go to the movies and munch popcorn with you. They'd kill you. They'd gut you and eat your heart out."

This was a reread for me and it was nothing like I recalled. John Smith, born to a 14-year-old Indian girl and given up for adoption to a white upper-middle-class couple, grows up without any real knowledge of his tribal heritage. As apparent schizophrenia develops for John, its tentacles of delusion, hallucination, and paranoia intertwine themselves with his reasonably-evolving roots of rage and isolation. John moves to Seattle and begins working construction. He also seeks belonging and safety in a world that is simply incomprehensible to him. His rage is murderous and, as he works to find his way in this city, a rash of violence emerges: white men are being killed, apparently by an Indian who leaves a "calling card" indicating his Native American identity. The violence escalates; Native American homeless people are particularly targeted for horrific battering.

This novel, surely not Alexie's best, is peopled with angry Native American students, angry white guys, a sad white Wannabe novelist who claims expertise in all things Indian, and some very sympathetic people who are just trying to get along. Its violence is real and I know that, years after the novel's publication, Alexie himself questioned his own writing and the commanding, unflinching presence of the violence. And yet. Here, in 2017, as we watch the national dialogue deteriorate inexorably into deep incivility, and as we witness ascendent, apparently incurable racist divisions and the spread of violence as a "solution," Alexie's novel is timely and astute. He may retroactively feel sheepish about his rage. But this is exactly the rage we are seeing in our society today. ( )
  EBT1002 | Jun 14, 2017 |
Certainly an engaging thriller, but Alexie's characters are wildly overdrawn and his prose is really clunky in this book. I'm surprised it won a National Book Award. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
I feel that this book had more to offer than what I could get out of it. There were things I definitely did not grasp fully. Just when I thought I had a good handle on it, I was surprised by my lack of understanding. A definite reread. ( )
  KimKimpton | Jul 14, 2016 |

Alexie crafts a literary thriller that explores issues of racism, isolation, and mental illness.

A serial murderer known as “The Indian Killer” is terrorizing Seattle, hunting, killing and scalping white men. John Smith was taken from his Native American teen-age mother at birth and given to a white couple, who adopted him and raised him in a loving family. He has grown into a strong and handsome man, who lives quietly on the fringe of society. As the story progresses it becomes clear that John suffers from mental illness. The question is whether he is the Indian Killer.

Alexie peoples his Seattle neighborhoods with a variety of characters, though most are thinly drawn. We have angry students, arrogant college professors, puzzled middle-class parents, alcoholic homeless men, and young men who prefer to use their fists. There are plenty of people here who threaten (and commit) violence on each other. Could one of them be the killer instead of John? The main problem is that none of these characters is fully fleshed out. Alexie gives us lots of hints, but few facts, and leaves us wondering “who dunnit?”

I am usually pretty tolerant of ambiguous endings, but I was disappointed in the “non-ending” here. I can only assume that this is Alexie’s way of showing that there really is no end to the hatred that we humans feel towards one another. It’s a pretty bleak outlook. Still, the book moved quickly for me; I was drawn in and couldn’t read fast enough.
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
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