Cover image for Blasphemy : [new and selected stories] / Sherman Alexie.
Title:
Blasphemy : [new and selected stories] / Sherman Alexie.
ISBN:
9780802120397
Edition:
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press : Distributed by Publishers Group West, c2012.
Physical Description:
465 p. ; 24 cm.
General Note:
Subtitle from dust jacket.
Contents:
Cry cry cry -- Green world -- Scars -- The toughest indian in the world -- War dances -- This is what it means to say Phoenix, Arizona -- Midnight basketball -- Idolatry -- Protest -- What ever happened to Frank Snake Church? -- The Lone Ranger and Tonto fistfight in heaven -- The approximate size of my favorite tumor -- Indian country -- Because my father always said he was the only indian who saw Jimi Hendrix play "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock -- Scenes from a life -- Breakfast -- Night people -- Breaking and entering -- Do you know where I am? -- Indian education -- Gentrification -- Fame -- Faith -- Salt -- Assimilation -- Old growth -- Emigration -- The search engine -- The vow -- Basic training -- What you pawn I will redeem.
Abstract:
Combines fifteen of the author's classic short stories with fifteen new stories in an anthology that features tales involving donkey basketball leagues, lethal wind turbines, and marriage. In these comfort-zone-destroying tales, including the masterpiece, War Dances, characters grapple with racism, damaging stereotypes, poverty, alcoholism, diabetes, and the tragic loss of languages and customs. Questions of authenticity and identity abound.
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Summary

Summary

Sherman Alexie's stature as a writer of stories, poems, and novels has soared over the course of his twenty-book, twenty-year career. His wide-ranging, acclaimed stories from the last two decades, from The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven to his most recent PEN/Faulkner award-winning War Dances , have established him as a star in modern literature.

A bold and irreverent observer of life among Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, the daring, versatile, funny, and outrageous Alexie showcases all his talents in his newest collection, Blasphemy , where he unites fifteen beloved classics with fifteen new stories in one sweeping anthology for devoted fans and first-time readers.

Included here are some of his most esteemed tales, including "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," "The Toughest Indian in the World," and "War Dances." Alexie's new stories are fresh and quintessential--about donkey basketball leagues, lethal wind turbines, the reservation, marriage, and all species of contemporary American warriors.

An indispensable collection of new and classic stories, Blasphemy reminds us, on every thrilling page, why Sherman Alexie is one of our greatest contemporary writers and a true master of the short story.


Author Notes

Sherman J. Alexie Jr. was born on October 7, 1966. His mother was Spokane Indian and his father was Coeur d'Alene Indian. Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. He decided to attend high school off the reservation where he knew he would get a better education. He was the only Indian at the school, and excelled academically as well as in sports. After high school, he attended Gonzaga University for two years before transferring to Washington State University, where he graduated with a degree in American studies. He received the Washington State Arts Commission Poetry Fellowship in 1991 and the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship in 1992.

His collections of poetry included The Business of Fancydancing, First Indian on the Moon, The Summer of Black Widows, One Stick Song, and Face. His first collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, received a PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Book of Fiction and a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award. His other short story collections included The Toughest Indian in the World, Ten Little Indians, and War Dances. His first novel, Reservation Blues, received the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award and the Murray Morgan Prize. His other novels included Indian Killer, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and Flight. He won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction in 2018 for You Don't Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir.

Alexie and Jim Boyd, a Colville Indian, collaborated on the album Reservation Blues, which contains the songs from the book of the same name. In 1997, Alexie collaborated with Chris Eyre, a Cheyenne/Arapaho Indian, on a film project inspired by Alexie's work, This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona, from the short story collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven. Smoke Signals debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1998, winning two awards: the Audience Award and the Filmmakers Trophy. In 1999 the film received a Christopher Award.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

The National Book Award and PEN/Faulkner Award-winner's latest work combines 15 classics ("The Toughest Indian in the World"; "Salt"; "Indian Education") with 15 recent stories of varying length and tenor, and the result should attract new converts and invite back longtime fans. Heralded for his candid depictions of life on a reservation in the Pacific Northwest, versatile Alexie traverses familiar territory while also branching out. A son envisions his dead father's "impossibly small corpse" peering out of his morning omelet in the page-long "Breakfast." In "Gentrification," a white narrator's do-gooder intentions go predictably awry in his all-black neighborhood. "Night People" finds a sex-starved insomniac and a connection-hungry manicurist at a 24-hour New York City salon finding common ground in their loneliness and lack of sleep. In "Faith," a married man and a married woman at an evangelical dinner party who have an instantly easy rapport deliver witty repartee at the expense of their sheepish spouses. As in previous volumes, Alexie hammers away at ever-simmering issues, like racism, addiction, and infidelity, using a no-holds-barred approach and seamlessly shattering the boundary between character and reader. But while these glimpses into a harried and conflicted humanity prod our consciousness, there's plenty of bawdiness and Alexie's signature wicked humor throughout to balance out the weight. Agent: Nancy Stauffer Associates. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


New York Review of Books Review

IN his 1936 essay "The Storyteller," Walter Benjamin drew a sharp distinction between prose fiction, meaning novels and short stories, and actual storytelling, meaning spoken narratives passed from one individual to another. The essential quality of storytelling, Benjamin wrote, is lived experience: "Every story contains, openly or covertly, something useful . . . a moral; some practical advice; a proverb or maxim. In every case the storyteller has counsel for his readers. But if today 'having counsel' has an old-fashioned ring, this is because the communicability of experience is decreasing. . . . We have no counsel either for ourselves or for others." Benjamin, of course, died long before the increased visibility of Native American literature, or the literature of any indigenous people with a living oral tradition, and so it's impossible (if a little entertaining) to imagine what he would make of Sherman Alexie. In one sense, Alexie is - and is well aware of being - the quintessential literary novelist, who, in Benjamin's terms, "has isolated himself, . . . is himself uncounseled and cannot counsel others. In the midst of life's fullness, and through the representation of this fullness, he gives evidence of the profound perplexity of the living." The stories in "Blasphemy," Alexie's collection of new and selected work, begin and nearly always end by reaffirming the brokenness, the dissonance and alienation of contemporary Native American life, usually delivered in withering punch lines: "On a reservation, Indian men who abandon their children are treated worse than white fathers who do the same thing. It's because white men have been doing that forever and Indian men have just learned how. That's how assimilation can work." Or: "When a reservation-raised Native American dies of alcoholism it should be considered death by natural causes." On the other hand, to understand Sherman Alexie as he often presents himself - as a clown, a cynic, a glib comedian, a blasphemer - is to miss the undercurrent of deep longing for the gravitas, the wisdom, of the storyteller. Although Alexie was not raised speaking a tribal language, and the loss of that language and the oral teachings associated with it comes up occasionally in his work, he peoples his fiction with characters who refuse to disguise or compromise their "Indianness," even if they can't quite define what Indianness means. In what is perhaps his best-known story, "This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona" (which was adapted for the movie "Smoke Signals"), the young protagonist seeks out a former friend and eccentric outcast, Thomas Builds-the-Fire, for help transporting his estranged father's ashes back to his reservation. Thomas talks to himself, we're told, because even though he clearly has prophetic powers, he's "a storyteller that nobody wanted to listen to." But the protagonist knows enough to turn him when he feels "a sudden need for tradition," and Thomas provides him with a certain kind of offhand, cryptic spiritual guidance as they navigate the father's remains home, finally promising that he will take half the ashes and pour them into Spokane Falls: "Your father will rise like a salmon," he says, "leap over the bridge . . . and find his way home." Alexie's best stories bring the two sides of this literary persona - the embittered critic and the yearning dreamer - together in ways that are moving and extremely funny. "War Dances," a loose mosaic of lists, quizzes, interviews and poetry, evokes an entire spectrum of emotion surrounding the death of the narrator's father from alcoholism and diabetes: from rage to survivor's guilt to pure uninhibited grief to the blackest of black humor. ("If God really loved Indians," the father says, "he would have made us white people.") "The Toughest Indian in the World" arises out of an unexpected bond between a reporter and a prizefighter he picks up hitchhiking - in which the reporter's longing for an "authentic" Indian role model turns into an erotic encounter, which in turn becomes a kind of initiation: "I crawled naked into bed. I wondered if I was a warrior in this life and if I had been a warrior in a previous life. . . . The next morning, before sunrise, . . . I stepped onto the pavement, still warm from the previous day's sun. I started walking. In bare feet, I traveled upriver toward the place where I was born and will someday die." WHAT becomes clear, however, as the reader travels farther and farther upstream in this voluminous collection, is that Alexie's gifts have hardened and become reflexive over time. Alexie began writing in an era dominated by the dirty realists - the unholy trinity of Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff and Richard Ford - and his work shares with theirs a certain bluntness and rawness, an aversion to sensory description, nuance or context, and an overriding interest in (some might say obsession with) male soUtude as a fount of life lessons. There's a tendency in Alexie's work to condense experience and biography into two- or three-sentence packages, and the result is that even stories with very different settings or plots tend to blur together: we feel constantly rushed from scene to scene, encounter to encounter, by a writer who's a little impatient with the texture of language and wants to get right to the point: "My Indian daddy, Marvin, died of stomach cancer when I was a baby. I never knew him, but I spent half of every summer on the Spokane Reservation with his mother and father, my grandparents. My mother wanted me to keep in touch with my tribal heritage, but mostly, I read spy novels to my grandfather and shopped garage sales and secondhand stores with my grandmother. I suppose, for many Indians, garage sales and trashy novels are highly traditional and sacred. . . . All told, I loved to visit but loved my home much more." The key phrase here, and throughout, is "All told" - as in, "I'm done with this part, let's move on." The effect of all this workmanlike prose is a desire to skim for the funny parts, which show up with great regularity, two or three to a page, like jokes in a sitcom script. The most disheartening aspect of this collection is the fact that, over 20 years, the jokes themselves haven't changed. Alexie's narrators and protagonists still see themselves as solitary outcasts on the margins of reservation life, and it shows: we hear a great deal about vodka, meth, commodity canned beef and horn-rimmed government glasses, but nothing about the intricacies of tribal politics, struggles over natural resources or efforts to preserve indigenous cultural life. Of course, a fiction writer follows the dictates of his own imagination, not any political or cultural agenda, but that's precisely the point: Alexie's world is a starkly limited one, and his characters' vision of Native America, despite their sometimes crippling nostalgia, is as self-consciously impoverished as it has ever been. What began as blasphemy could now just as easily be described as a kind of arrested development. Perhaps, willingly or not, that is the lesson he's trying to teach us. 'When a reservation-raised Native American dies of alcoholism,' Alexie writes, it's 'death by natural causes.' Jess Row is the author of two story collections, most recently "Nobody Ever Gets Lost."


Library Journal Review

This collection includes some of the best-known short pieces by Alexie (War Dances), along with a number of new stories. Loss, loyalty, dying fathers, basketball, Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, and life on a reservation are themes repeated throughout. In "Whatever Happened to Frank Snake Church?" a man experiences a false vision of the death of his father and later, when grappling with real loss, tries to recapture his love of basketball. In "Breaking and Entering," a Native American man, misidentified as white, is vilified after fighting off an intruder in his home. The protagonist in "Gentrification" makes an enemy when he decides to remove a dirty mattress from the neighbor's sidewalk, while in "Old Growth," an accidental killing is awkwardly resolved. At times explicitly the subject of the story, as with "Indian Education," cultural identity is not always the dominant theme. For instance, "Do You Know Where I Am?" tells of a couple's courtship, life together and the lies they've told, while "Night People," features a New York manicurist who is watched at work for months from a nearby terrace. -VERDICT A large and diverse collection for fans of literary short stories. [See Prepub Alert, 4/30/12.]-John R. Cecil, Austin, TX (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.