Monday, July 12, 2010

Review: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

I’ve been waiting a few days to write my review for this book. It left me with an odd feeling that I’m still not quite sure how to translate into words. Did I like it, how did it make me feel, what did I learn? I’ve been asking myself these questions but Alexie doesn’t make them easy for me to answer. There’s a lot to digest.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a short story collection by Native American author Sherman Alexie. The text revolves around several characters living around the Spokane Indian Reservation but focuses primarily on Victor, Thomas and Norma. There are several themes explored in the text but the main thrust seems to be a quest to present what it means to be Native American in the 20th century (the text was published in 1993).

My first and lingering impression of this text is that it marks Alexie’s early writing career. There’s a lot of angst coming through the words. It seems as if he had much to express, much that he wanted the world to hear and there’s fingers pointing every which way which left me feeling dizzy. And it comes across rather loud and in your face. I think Alexie’s later works reflect similar messages but with a lot more skill. That isn’t to say this work isn’t skillful. No, Alexie’s got skill by the bucket loads. Rather, his later works show a honed skill.

These stories are powerful in their representation of Indian life. There’s a lot of conflict – between father and son, between urban and reservation Indians, between white culture and reservation culture. Alexie confronts the stereotype of alcoholic Indians. I thought it was interesting how Victor is shown before he begins drinking as full of promise and hope and after he begins drinking his hopefulness and positive outlook disappears. Most of the men on the reservation succumb to alcohol. Victor and his friends seem to lose their cultural identity when they become alcoholic, or in other words, they take on a new cultural identity – one that feeds stereotypes and doesn’t reflect Native American traditions. In one story, Victor is involved in a car accident and the white authorities are shocked he isn’t drunk. It is the small victories like these that offer hope.

I’m still not sure how to answer my initial questions. It was a worthwhile read. I recommend it to people interested in or unfamiliar with Native American life, cultural studies or a general interest in anthropology. 
Publisher: Harper, 1994    Pages: 223   
Rating: 3.5 Stars                 Source: used bookstore.


  1. I loved the movie Smoke Signals, which is based off of this book. I've been meaning to read something by Alexie for a long time. I've heard he's great.

    Anyway, I recommend the movie if you've never seen it!

  2. I did watch the movie! I rented it after I read the book. I liked how it focused on just Victor and Thomas.

  3. I love the messy angst of this novel. In fact, I had a chance to teach this as part of my MA, and it was fun to discuss the different cultural elements present. I'm glad to see that it made you think about what it was doing, and I love seeing it being reviewed and brought to people's attention. Sherman Alexie is the best!

  4. I love the title of this book. I enjoyed reading your honest review. The book sounds interesting and somewhat disturbing.