So, I thought I'd go ahead and start discussing The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. There are a few spoilers, so proceed at your own peril!
"All right," she said, having no idea what she was doing. "Here goes."
So, I first became acquainted with Sherman Alexie after watching the beautiful movie Smoke Signals. The movie was based on his book of short stories The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, so I read that next-- it's magnificent, I recommend both book and movie. I mean, where does he come up with his imagery? Here are a few lines from Lone Ranger, just to show the gorgeousness of his writing for the adult market (and I assume you know that when I use that term I'm not referring to the XXX market ;):
"James's voice sounded like a beautiful glass falling off the shelf and landing safely on a thick shag carpet."
"Sometimes I still feel like half of me is lost in the city, with its foot wedged into a steam grate or something. Stuck in one of those revolving doors, going round and round while all the white people are laughing. Standing completely still on an escalator that will not move, but I didn’t have the courage to climb the stairs by myself. Stuck in an elevator between floors with a white woman who keeps wanting to touch my hair."
"Diabetes is just like a lover, hurting you from the inside. I was closer to my diabetes than to any of my family or friends. Even when I was all alone, quiet, thinking, wanting no company at all, my diabetes was there."
(No, I didn't just find those and type them out; I already had them typed out; it's this habit I've developed solely for the purposes of torturing myself.) :)
Anyway, I'm talking about the wrong book, so I'll move on to The Absolutely True Diary, which also has some zingers:
"I'd been thinking about her breasts and she'd been thinking about my whole life." (127)
"I hate to argue with a Russian genius, but Tolstoy didn't know Indians. And he didn't know that all Indian families are unhappy for the same exact reasons: the fricking booze." (200)
"As the coffin settled into the dirt, it made this noise, almost like a breath, you know? / Like a sigh. / Like the coffin was settling down for a long, long nap, for a forever nap." (209)
The writing speaks for itself, don't you think? He's fresh and honest and precise and wonderful with his language. But here's the question I want to bring up-- maybe inappropriately, because I don't know if anyone else in the Misfits has read any other Alexie? Anyway, I'll state my question, with the caveat that I'm just trying to get a discussion started, and we don't need to discuss my specific issue at all if no one else is interested:
Is there anything wrong with Alexie writing a new book that is very much made up of the exact same themes and even plot points he's already written about in the past?
Here are some common themes in both books I've read: an Indian playing on a white high school basketball team and destroying the competition; a nerdy Indian kid with a tough and mean Indian friend; an Indian falling in love with a white woman; death by the combination of alcohol and fire; senseless death in general; a single Indian leaving the reservation. Reading The Absolutely True Diary, I had the feeling-- constantly-- that I'd read it or seen it before, that he was writing the same thing a different way (and personally, I liked the Lone Ranger version better!). Don't get me wrong-- I'm actually quite ambivalent about this. I'm really, really unwilling to be outrightly critical, because I think Diary is a wonderful book, and besides, part of the whole point is that the reservation life is the same thing over and over. I mean, above, I quoted the Tolstoy parody line: "All Indian families are unhappy for the same exact reasons." And remember Junior's reaction to his sister's death: "OF COURSE THEY HAD A BIG PARTY! OF COURSE THEY WERE DRUNK! THEY'RE INDIANS!" (205)-- the idea being that any story about life on this reservation is going to be the same story.
But? Am I nitpicking, because I can't find anything else to say about it other than glowing praise? I think this book is beautiful and important, and maybe Alexie's just trying to tell to young adults a story he's already told to adults. It's a little like Woody Allen, I suppose-- it seems like the same movie over and over, and yet I watch every one, because it's so much yummy goodness that why would I complain when he makes more of it? Or Jane Austen, for that matter.
Thoughts? Or other things to talk about?
(And has anyone ever read Reservation Blues or Ten Little Indians? Do they tell the same story? And does it matter?)