Sherman Alexie | Critical Review by Andrea-Bess Baxter

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Sherman Alexie.
This section contains 465 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Andrea-Bess Baxter

Critical Review by Andrea-Bess Baxter

SOURCE: A review of The Business of Fancydancing, in Western American Literature, Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, August, 1993, pp. 161-62.

Below, Baxter comments on the themes of isolation and alienation in The Business of Fancydancing.

Sherman Alexie's remarkable debut, The Business of Fancydancing, is an outstanding collection of poetry, prose, vignettes and epigrams that will surely launch him firmly into the Native American literature scene.

A spontaneous combustion propels the reader into the complex density of the modern Indian world, on and off the reservation, at once painful and compelling yet somehow balanced with humor and hope. Alexie's razor-sharp irony races toward unexpected twists and turns.

His stark portraits are vivid and disturbing: house fires, sin and forgiveness, Crazy Horse dreams (the kind that don't come true), Buffalo Bill opening a pawn shop, pow wows and fancydancers like Vernon WildShoe (Elvis in braids), Crazy Horse just back from Vietnam in the Breakaway Bar, Lester FallsApart translating the directions on a commodity can of soup, Chief Victor, two hundred winter beers wide, still sinking jump shots from thirty feet and beyond.

Alexie grew up in Wellpinit on the Spokane Indian reservation. He speaks of his connections to and isolation within, not only white America, but his own tribe. His writing hits hard because it comes directly out of his own experiences. Comic relief provides an element of surprise. And throughout we encounter the theme of forgiveness. In "Pow Wow" we read of the usual hustle and bustle, humorous incidents and the inevitable encounters with whites, all taking place in the present and past. The poem ends:

      still, Indians have a way of forgiving anything
      a little but more and more it's memory lasting longer
      and longer like uranium just beginning a half-life.

The threads of isolation and alienation that weave through these stories all sum up what Gerald Vizenor terms the "cultural schizophrenic," who has the impossible task of living in two worlds, always questioning where he or she belongs. In "Distances" we are told that "There is nothing as white as the white girl an Indian boy loves." And "I do not speak my native tongue. Except that is, for the dirty words. I can tell you what I think of you in two languages."

Sherman Alexie's powerful voice exemplifies how imagination and the power of words, native or not, can be the most potent weapon of all. His writing challenges the reader to listen and listen well and to confront an honest portrait of the contemporary Indian world, a world where, all too often, "suddenly, nothing happens." It is exactly this kind of truthfulness and insight that leads to triumph in battle. The Business of Fancydancing is guaranteed to provoke, amaze and remove those rose-colored glasses from idealistic non-Indians by revealing the hard realities of the present-day Native American world.

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This section contains 465 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Andrea-Bess Baxter