Posted by: gdevi | March 18, 2013

Sherman Alexie, Blasphemy (2012)

It is unbelievable, the weather here, today. It has been snowing non-stop. (Five inches of snow on March 18! ). It is spring break for us so I don’t have to drive to work. I have been reading Sherman Alexie’s new book all day in between working on conference papers. The book is called Blasphemy. It is a fabulous book. I will post a full review later. But I don’t think I have enjoyed such real sweetness in a long, long time now. I hope he wins the Nobel Prize some day. He probably won’t. It is hard enough for a Native American to make it as a writer in America, let alone, the world. But, real genius, you know, you can’t kill it.

Alcoholism. Basketball. Community Colleges. The Rez. War dances. People who have nothing. People who are treated like dirt.  Well-meaning, perhaps, but ignorant whites who call all Indians “chiefs.” Chief of what? All of Alexie’s standard motifs are in these stories as well. The frightening irony and humor of it all. It is astonishing every time you read Native American literature how we all live our lives on top of this slow genocide that has been going on forever.  It is just like the status of aborigines in India. They just won’t convert to our ways. In return, we kill them slowly, from one year to the next. From one generation to the next. We are in no hurry.

From War Dances, p. 49

The Indian world is filled with charlatans, men and women who pretended–hell, who might have come to believe–that they were holy. Last year, I had gone to a lecture at the University of Washington. An elderly Indian woman, a Sioux writer and scholar and charlatan, had come to orate on Indian sovereignity and literature. She kept arguing for some kind of separate indigenous literary identity, which was ironic considering that she was speaking English to a room full of white professors. But I wasn’t angry with the woman, or even bored. No, I felt sorry for her. I realized that she was dying of nostalgia. She had taken nostalgia as her false idol–her thin blanket–and it was murdering her.

“Nostalgia,” I said to the other Indian man in the hospital.

“What?”

“Your dad, he sounds like he’s got a bad case of nostalgia.”

“Yeah, I hear you catch that from f****** old high school girlfriends,” the man said. “What the hell you doing here anyway?”

“My dad just got his feet cut off,” I said.

“Diabetes?”

“And vodka.”

“Vodka straight up or with a nostalgia chaser?”

“Both.”

“Natural causes for an Indian.”

Yes.”

There wasn’t much to say after that.

—————

From What Ever Happened to Frank Snake Church, p. 109 (a really fine fine story–you can really see Alexie’s gift as a story-teller in this extended short story.)

Carefully, painfully, Frank crawled back up the slope to the trail. Once there, while still on his hands and knees, he took a few deep breaths and promised himself that he’d visit a superhero cardiologist as soon as he got off the mountain. He’d promise to see an organic nutritionist, aromatherapist, deep-tissue masseuse, feng shui consultant, yoga master, and Mormon stand-up comedian if those promises would help him get off this mountain. Frank stood, tested his balance, and found it to be true enough, so he resumed his rough trek along the trail. He felt stronger with each step. He was now convinced he was going to be okay. Yes, he was going to be fine. But after a few more steps, an electrical charge jolted him. Damn, Frank thought. I have a heart attack, fall down a damn mountain, and then I crawl back only to get struck by lightning. Frank imagined the newspaper headline: HEART-DISEASED FOREST RANGER STRUCK BY LIGHTNING. Frank was imagining the idiot readers laughing at the idiot park ranger when another electrical bolt knocked him back ten feet and dropped him to the ground, where a third lightning strike shocked him again. Damn, Frank thought, this lightning has a personal vendetta against me. He felt a fourth electrical charge shoot up his spine and into his brain. He convulsed and vomited. He kicked and punched at the air, and then he couldn’t move at all. As he lay paralyzed on the trail, Frank thought: This is it, now I’m really dead, and I have crapped my pants; I am going to die with half-digested pieces of mushroom and sausage pizza stuck to my ass; humiliation, degradation, sin, and mortal shame. But Frank didn’t die. Instead, as the electricity fired inside his brain, Frank saw an image of his father, Harrison Snake Church, as the old man lay faceup on the floor of his kitchen in Seattle. Harrison’s eyes were open, but there was no light behind them; blood dripped from his nose and ears. In great pain, Frank understood that he hadn’t suffered a heart attack or been struck by lightning. No, he’d been gifted and cursed with the first real vision of his life, and though Frank was one of the very few Indian agnostics in the world, he accepted this vision as a simple and secular truth: His father was dead.

——————————————————-

Marvelous, don’t you think? I honestly cannot put the book down. I must have gone to bed around midnight last night–I couldn’t put the book down. Alexie is a good reader of his stories too. I heard him years ago when I was in grad school. My friends tell me that this year’s writer’s conference is going on at UND this week. Go, support the writers, nation!  You know, every year my friends Sharon and Lucy invite me to their cabin in the Black Hills to come and spend summer with them. I might do that sometime. It is a standing invitation.

—————————————————–

Excerpt from Green World, p. 21

They weren’t ponds of blood, of course. I can be a fantasist; forgive me. Rather, the windmills had sliced dozens of birds and scattered the bloody pieces into twelve distinct circles around their foundations.

It was a particularly disturbing sight, and I might have driven away had I not seen that Indian man walking toward the windmills. The windmills and those bloody circles stood between the Indian man and me. He was singing a tribal song, and though I understood none of the words or rhythms, I can promise you that he was singing a death song.

And so, for reasons I still cannot explain, I stepped out of the truck and walked toward that Indian man. I walked between the windmill rows and through those bloody circles and that Indian man did the same from the opposite direction, until we stood just ten feet apart. It was only then that I noticed he was carrying a shot gun.

He kept singing his death song as he raised his weapon and pointed it at me. I remember thinking that he was singing my death song.

. . . .

The Indian studied my face for a while. Then he made some judgment about me. I could see him make his decision. He set down the dead bird, picked up the shotgun, walked close to one of the windmills, and shot it.

He stepped forward and closely studied the shotgun blast in the windmill, as if he expected the machine to bleed. Then he stepped back and shot the windmill again. He reloaded,shot, reloaded, shot, reloaded, shot, and then stepped back and looked up at the windmill. It was still moving, working, and ready to kill birds. It was impervious.

After a while, he turned and walked away. I watched him go over the slight rise and disappear. Indians are good at walking away.

I stood in the cold for a while. I am not a religious man. I am not even sure that I believe in God, but I knelt in the snow and prayed.

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