As is usually the case with books such as these, I was unaware that it was anything besides a novel until I was partway through and started to see that this hopping around between different characters and times wasn’t a narrative technique, but in actuality a sign that these were nothing more than (semi-) interrelated short stories that shared a cast of characters between them. It was after that realization set in, approximately, that I began to sour towards the book. Not because I demand a longer, over-arching narrative.
The issue was Alexie’s use of language. He speaks here almost exclusively in figurative language, the end result seeming, to me, like faux profundity, as if he intended to be obtuse about everything. This worked fairly well in the early-going, such as in the opening story wherein he does the opposite of personifying, describing a fight as if it were a hurricane. Story by story, though, his handle on things weakens, until he’s practically spouting gibberish that I can tell I’m supposed to find some deeper meaning in.
His stories also grow progressively darker, bleaker, as the book progresses; at first, their tone was such that I could recognize him as the author of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, one of my all-time favorite young adult books, but it soon progressed to a point where I pitied his characters, and later it would move past that, leaving me unfeeling towards all of them. If you weren’t already aware, I have a low tolerance for darkness, unless we’re talking about dark comedy (in that case, the blacker the better). It’s why I was put off by Les Miserables; yes, it was right there in the name, but I wasn’t expecting so much misery. Likewise, it’s the reason behind my hatred for The Death of Bees, better known as fucked up shit happens to even more fucked up people.
While I like to think I have a deeper appreciation of books, film, television, and music than your average person who goes mainly for things of the more mindless variety, we are more alike than I would like to admit, me wanting to be entertained more than anything, the same as them. Having to look beyond the surface to understand and appreciate a book is not something I’m necessarily against, but sometimes the effort is not worth the potential reward, and this is one such instance. Alexie makes a show of clouding his narration in borderline impenetrable similes and metaphors, and I sincerely doubt I’d find Walter White-esque riches inside the vault he’s constructed. In other words, there’d be no Scrooge McDucking going on here.
It could be that Alexie’s an author fit only for the young adult medium, because I checked out two more of his books along with this and was unable to get more than a chapter into either, I was too put off by and bored with the writing itself. Gone was the sense of humor I saw in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. That book isn’t necessarily upbeat. Arnold has a whole mess of problems, from his many health conditions to the cruel, and frequent, bullying they inspire. His best friend, Rowdy, comes from an abusive household. You’re probably thinking there’s a double-standard here, if I can stomach that and not the book I’m reviewing. In a sense there is.
Except there is a valid reasoning behind it; in that book, there’s plenty of humor to balance the equation out, whereas here the humor was all but gone after the first however many stories. Or maybe it’s that none of the humor worked for me. Either way, what I got, in the end, was a series of stories about a group of Indians whose lives all go astray in one sense or another at some point in time. And, in describing these character’s lives, Alexie, I think, fails to give it all meaning. I could tell there was supposed to be a takeaway from all this, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you what exactly it is. That could be on me as much as it is on Alexie himself. Whatever the case may be, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven was about as big of a letdown as I could’ve possibly had after such a promising start with The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, and I think it (combined with those other two books) was enough to squash any further interest I might have in his work. In essence, this just left me wanting to re-read that other book of his, rather than interested in the goings-on of the book I was actually reading, which tells you about all you need to know.
Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.