Sunday 20 July 2008

Why I can't break up with Sherman Alexie

The last time I blogged about Sherman Alexie, I pinned him for suffering from the then as yet unnamed Huruki Murakami Syndrome; i.e., both he and his editor have become metaphorically fat and sleek, and literally lazy from experiencing a superabundance of success really quickly (in book publishing terms, which are not the same as, say, pop tart terms). No longer hungry (either metaphorically or literally), Alexie, like Murakami, tends not to write stuff that's brilliant and edgy and show-stopping anymore.

So, why do I keep reading Alexie's stuff? It seems that while I detect an increasing complacence in his writing, his editor's right: people (i.e., me) will keep buying in the hopes of finding his original brilliance somehow restored. Le sigh.

In fact, I'm so unable to resist the possibility of Alexie putting out something as beautiful and perfect as The Toughest Indian in the World that I bought his latest, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, in hardcover. This is Alexie's first YA novel, and it's in diary form, telling the story of grade nine student Arnold Spirit.

Spoiler Alert!
Junior, as Arnold is more commonly known, is a really smart kid who feels himself being smothered by all the poverty, fear, and alcoholism on the reserve and so transfers to the white school in Reardon, a town about 20 miles away. The diary covers his first year there, his ass-kicking of some racist football stars, his acquisition of a white semi-girlfriend, and his success in school in spite of the deaths of several close family friends and family members.

Anyway, I honestly don't know what I think of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It was an easy read, and sometimes a very good read. Sometimes it was truly hilarious, and it did manage to make me tear up a few times too. But for the most part it just seemed, well, insincere. Or maybe not insincere, but like the narrator is so far away from the difficult things he describes that he doesn't really feel it anymore. And hey, that's fine - he describes some really terrible things and who the hell wants to carry around terrible things from the past in an immediate and soul-destroying way forever?

In the end, I don't think I loved this book but it had just enough of the old Alexie magic to keep me coming back and trying again. Apparently, being able to identify the Haruki Murakami Syndrome isn't enough to allow me to free myself from its grip. My relationship with these writers is kind of similar to the relationship I had with this one boy in my undergraduate days - just as I was on the verge of leaving forever because I was getting nothing out of it, he'd do something super-sweet and reel me back in. I eventually escaped him but I'd be surprised if I can escape Alexie - he just gave me too much show-stopping reading time in the past for me to ever give up completely.

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