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182 Western American Literature might long for something a bit more like Reservation Blues or The Lone Ranger and TontoFistfight inHeaven, why, intheend, criticize someoneforwantingtostretchhim­ selfartistically, especially whentheresults areas highlyreadable asthis novel is? PAULHADELLA Southern OregonState College The Summer ofBlack Widows. By Sherman Alexie. (Brooklyn: Hanging Loose Press, 1996. 139pages, $13.50.) At present, at least two major dangers loom for non-Indian reviewers of Native Americanliterature: misunderstandingitbecauseofthereviewer’soutsidemess orover­ valuing it for politically safe reasons. Yet even with these potential pratfalls in view, Native American written literature, for the most part a creature only of the past thirty years, forms one of the richest literatures of twentieth-century America. Much of its power no doubt is paradoxically a positive outgrowth of the tragic reality comprising Native American history over the last five centuries. Along with Momaday, Erdrich, Welch, Silko, Owens, Hogan, Vizenor, and the like, the young, prolific Spokane/Coeur d’Alene ShermanAlexie—whose previous short stories, poems, and novels have made him one of the most significant Native American literary voices—has continued his quest to turn that painful history into art. This volume of poetry and his novel Indian Killer arecurrentlyjoint subjects ofa double booktour. As suggested by the spider in the book’s title, themes frequently visited byNative American writers run through these poems. These themes range from death, survival, and the search for identity to reservation life (including much ado about basketball), leaving for thecity (oftenbut not always to return), Wovokaand the Ghost Dance, and so on.Alexie’suse ofIndian humor is one ofthebook’smost noticeable strengths, and the sarcastic “How to Write the Great American Indian Novel” is probably the most enjoyable if not the best of the poems here focusing on what we might call “at-large Indianconcerns.”Yetthisbook,likeAlexie’sotherwork,revealsmorethanjusttheinter­ connectedness ofthevarious Indiantribes intheUnitedStates; italsoincludeselements unique to tribes ofthe Pacific Northwest, such as the centrality of salmon to their cul­ ture(“ThePlaceWhereGhostsofSalmonJump”), Sasquatch(“TheSasquatchPoems”), and more. Characters familiar to readers ofAlexie, such as Lester FallsApart and Big Mom, appearhere as well. Furthermore, Alexie, as always, deals with subject matter not distinctly Indian, though he does this through his Native American lens. These poetic investigations includepopcultureicons, canonical authors, his owndiabetes, Catholicism, hislovefor his wifeDiane (towhomthevolumeisdedicated), aseriesonthedeathofhis sisterand brother-in-lawthrough atrailer fire, andhis relationship withhis father, among others. PerhapsAlexie’ssupreme accomplishmentinthiscollectionisthat, ashehas inhis other work, he somehow produces a strong human identity for his poetic persona and charactersdespitehisminimalist style, astylewhichinmost otherhandsresonates shal­ lowly.Infact, thepersonabehindthesepoemsis soappealingthat, ifnotAlexiehimself, it ought tobe. Alexie remains awriterto be watched—andabove all, read. DAVIDN. CREMEAN University ofWisconsin-Whitewater ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
p. 182
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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