Friday, August 07, 2009

The New Yorker: "War Dances" by Sherman Alexie

Fragmentation suits this story, and is the perfect vehicle for Alexie’s use of humor to explore serious topics. Here we have a narrator—like many of Alexie’s narrators, this one may or may not bear an uncanny resemblance to Alexie—who goes through a medical scare. He’s suffering from hearing loss, which he initially attributes to allergies, and discovers that he actually may have a small tumor. His foray into the medical facility raises a certain amount of anxiety, and also recollections about his father.

On a previous visit to the hospital with his father, the narrator had an encounter with another Native American in which the two eventually touch on one of Alexie’s favorite topics—stereotypes. In this case, the stereotype involved Indian blankets, which the narrator needed for his father, and it turned out that the other Native American did, in fact, have a supply of Pendleton blankets. (I liked that especially because very nearly got one of these great blankets at an outlet store during a recent stay in Nebraska, but they weigh a ton and getting it home would have been problematic.)

Each of the fragments here is its own story as the narrator builds up to the punch line of his medical condition: “There was a rumor that I’d grown a tumor, but I killed it with humor.” And in fact he’s fine. But the real point here is the narrator’s relationship with his father: “I wanted to call my father and tell him that a white man thought my brain was beautiful. But I couldn’t tell him anything. He was dead.”

Nice story. It’s a little too odd to be in contention for story of the year, probably, but it’s a good one anyway.

August 10 & 17, 2009: “War Dances” by Sherman Alexie

4 comments:

Mind Chauffeur said...

What are your thoughts about the weird chainsaw poem, and the even weirder alphabetized notes about the poem directly afterwards? Am I missing something? I felt that he was trying to be rather humorous with the poem/poem-breakdown thing, in that he was making fun of poetry, or maybe specifically stereotypical Indian Poetry? The way the other Indian man he had met earlier in the hospital with the blanket was being about his father's songs and blessings?

I don't know, I'm a little confused. I just couldn't help but feel that this part of the story didn't quite belong with the rest. It felt like he wrote that part as a joke, with full intentions of deleting it out as soon as he finished writing it, and then, for whatever reason, decided not to.

?

Clifford Garstang said...

I confess I basically ignored that whole section, as being (a) inexplicable, but (b) establishing, at least, that the story was really about the narrator's father.

jessica said...

I've got to weigh in and say that I almost always love Alexie's work, and this one's tremendous.

The fragmentation suits the Narrator's frame of mind and way of thinking (much of the story is autobiographical, from what I know about Alexie), and I find, as always, his writing to be brutal, funny, hard on himself (i.e., the narrator in some form), and extremely precise in structure, word choice, and transitions.

Also he does make fun of things, all the time, in his poetry and his fiction. And his nonfiction. He's a sarcastic, fierce writer.

Jacob Russell said...

Hi Clifford!
The poem and its deconstruction--the heart of the story--as story. Yes, we're all too willing to identify author and narrator, but the relationship isn't that simple. It's a lesson in how to read.

"Odd" would be a compliment in my view.

I just posted my reivew on Barking Dog.