Sunday, August 22, 2010

Recent Reading Round-Up

Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie
This collection of short stories captures the range of Alexie's larger body of work quite well. In ten "little" stories, he gives a grand tour of what it means to be Native American in contemporary America, to be both inside and outside, revered and obliterated, living and yet extinct. Considering his somewhat limited scope, his variety is remarkable: these stories are tender, fun, sad, and uplifting by turn--and all take place within a small population of Spokane Indians living in central Washington. Some writers jump from one historical moment and setting to another to spur their creativity (Doctorow comes to mind especially), but Alexie shows that fully exploring the possibilities of even a small group, if done well, offer seemingly limitless possibilities.

Bloodroot by Amy Greene
Bloodroot as several elements that would seem, at first blush, to turn us off the novel: child protagonists, sections labeled by speaker, agrarian mysticism, violence against women as the inciting incident, and an obivous, banal horticultural metaphor. Still, we found ourselves strangely compelled. For one, Greene is fantastic with setting and her rendering of life in the foothills of the Appalachian is reason enough to read Bloodroot. We think perhaps a less complicated narrative and an easing-off of the allegorical pedal would serve Greene well; she writes well enough to do without so much, well, art.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
If Eggers has done nothing else, he's confirmed that the phrase "non-fiction novel" is not a logical absurdity. Combined with What is the What, Zeitoun gives us the beginning of a fascinating direction for Eggers, whose first, blockbuster work, A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius, was more a display of textual gymnastics than it was coherent. These true stories of people in the middle of major historical events give Eggers a project worthy of his skills. Zeitoun tells the story of a Muslim man and his family during Hurricane Katrina. It is a dizzying and unbelievable tale, told with reamarkable clarity and restraint.  Part Huck Finn, Part Native Son, Zeitoun is readable, poignant, infuriarting, and, impossibly, true.


  1. Sherman Alexie is a recent favorite of mine- I read his Reservation Blues last year and have The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian on my TBR pile. He gets a lot of flack for having left the reservation and then profiting from writing about it... but I think he does a great job of highlighting the beautiful, as well as the horrifying, truths about that often-ignored community.

  2. Whew - I was terrified that you were gonna hate Bloodroot. Glad you seemed to derive a modicum of enjoyment. "...and an easing-off of the allegorical pedal would serve Greene well;" That's well-said, and makes all kinds of sense, thinking back.

    I read Zeitoun just prior to starting my blog last year - which is probably a good thing. I wouldn't have been able to resist a political rant, I'm afraid. Simple, but shocking. Infuriating, indeed!

  3. Did you ever see Sherman Alexie on Stephen Colbert's show? For once Stephen was speechless when Alexie used a line on him about blankets and "Indian" giving. One of the funniest scenes ever. War Dances has a great short story about him and his father. I love his little observations, even though some of his work seems repetitive at times.

  4. Thanks for the interesting reviews.

    I haven't heard of "Ten Little Indians"; sounds intriguing. "Bloodroot" has been on my TBR list for a while - I'll bump it up the list.

    I have mixed feelings about Eggers. That Heartbreaking book was rather unpleasant and I to fight my way through it, but Zeitoun is a terrific story. I just reviewed Zeitoun on my blog last week.

  5. I'm in the middle of reading Zeitoun right now. Heartbreaking but amazing.