Review

War Dances

by Sherman Alexie

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano. If there is something that Sherman
Alexie can't write, would you please let me know? Following his
completely remarkable THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME
INDIAN, Alexie brings us WAR DANCES, a collection of poems and
short stories that will place him even further amongst the most
compelling and talented American writers.

I think it is Alexie's ability to unmask the most ridiculous
tendencies of the politically correct that makes him a fascinating
read. As a member of the Spokane tribe, in the midst of years of
pursuing higher education and the upper echelons of American
literary culture, he has not fallen prey to thinking that those who
have the most to say about the white man's treatment of Native
Americans are not as well-meaning as they might seem.

In fact, there is nothing you can take for granted in Alexie's
work. The first story in this collection concerns a film editor who
is working at home one day only to discover a young black man from
the neighborhood breaking into his DVD collection from a broken
window. Using a symbol of the great American pastime, a baseball
bat, Alexie's protagonist, George, takes a step into another world
--- the world of a killer. Exonerated by the determination that his
actions were taken in self-defense, he is still haunted by the bad
luck of his choice and his ability to step, ever so quickly, from
one world into another.

It is this knife-sharp precipice over which Alexie's characters
are constantly dangling. It is, really, the same one we are all
dangling over every day of our lives, but most of us take great
precautions not to go there. Alexie instead substitutes his
well-meaning protagonists in our place, so we get that visceral
experience ourselves without messing our collective hair. It's a
pointed and provocative stance that makes his literature do what
all good literature should do: transport us to another place that
we would not necessarily go except in our darkest depths.

Another story, in which a drunken man beats up his unrecognized
former best friend, does the same thing --- feature plausible and
contemporary situations with characters who very honestly and
forthrightly tell you exactly what they are experiencing as they
parcel those memories themselves in their own personal history.
Alexie is not frightened of where he is going --- the anger and
horror his characters feel at their repulsive actions bring them
down to our level. He brings them to the place where a simple
mistake can unalterably change a life in a split second…or
over a period of hundreds of years, which is the amount of time in
which the relations between the Native Americans and the white
explorers who took this nation's property as their own are examined
and exploited.

Alexie doesn't shy away from hard-nosed concern for his people
and equal concern for the way in which others appropriate his
people's horrors in order for them to show how far the white man
has come --- but it’s never enough. And he never pretends
that it’s even close to being reconciled. So his work goes
on, changing by the season, staying true to one thing: the honest
depiction of the ability of human beings to deceive and,
ultimately, redeem both themselves and the world that creates a
context around their actions.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on January 24, 2011

War Dances
by Sherman Alexie

  • Publication Date: August 3, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • ISBN-10: 0802144896
  • ISBN-13: 9780802144898