March 9, 2010

On The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

I'm late to the Alexie bandwagon. This book I picked up in Target because the books I was originally in the Target book section looking for wasn't there. I'd heard of "Part Time Indian" largely in context of some woman making noise that her son shouldn't have to read the book because it contains the acknowledgment that teenage boys sometimes think about sex and cuss. Like I said, I didn't even mean to buy this book, but there are ringing accolades on the cover; National Book Award Shield, and blurbs from both Neil Gaiman and Amy Sedaris. How can you go wrong?

Now, I haven't been unaware of the author. I just read a nice adult-oriented story of his in the New Yorker. This was after I bought the book but before I read it. I Picked it up because he actual reading of the new Pynchon book wasn't exciting me as much as the thought of reading the new Pynchon book. I have to say though, I was weary of reading this man's works. I remember when His last book, the story collection "Tonto and the Lone Ranger Fistfight in Heaven," came out. The people I remember talking about the work, in my mind, were ones that seemed to have a vested interest in inclusion and breaking down the canon. Not that I think either is an inherently bad thing, I just feel that it leads to a fetishization of the Other solely because of the author and his or her works creating them as totemic objects protecting the reader from the evil clutches of the dead straight white men.

But, not a problem here. Sherman Alexie is not a good "Native American" Writer. He's a good writer, period. in this book is able to do things with sentence length, chapter variation and inclusion of other media that only helps to enhance the story. In my mind I would compare it the best of Vonnegut in that. Alexie didn't allow me to put his book down. The story as it is is somewhat of a northwestern Native American _Angela's Ashes_ telling us a litany of bad things happening to the characters in an emotional way. I was crying by page sixteen. But I also laughed out loud several times after that, and then I cried some more. I just have a lot of feelings. The plot isn't too important. Its a coming of age story, but done well. I give it an unqualified recommendation, and I'm glad I picked it up off the shelf.

But finally one qualification. I've come across this in several YA books I've read, and I can imagine it must be difficult for writers not to do sometimes. The characters are deep and complex, but on some level they seem fake. Alexie creates a universe I believe in and populates it with characters that rise above cardboard, better than ol' J. K. Rowling. Good for him. He uses many less pages covering the events of one school year. But a couple of his characters seem too hyper-aware of themselves and what is going on around them for them to be freshmen in high school, especially if the education on tribal lands is as bad as the author sets it up to be. I don't know if this is a flax in the book, or some kind of marketing device to help flatter young readers, saying that by reading this book they are also like these characters in that aspect.