By Jack I., Trinity Press contributor
Some authors write to inform. Others write to convey feeling. Others write to communicate or to get things off their chests. Author and Spokane Native American Sherman Alexie writes to accomplish all of the above. His writing focuses on the Pacific Northwest, specifically the Native American communities there. His favored topic has the potential for significant controversy, but Alexie’s masterful handling of the subject and powerful prose makes it approachable and even relatable.
Alexie, born and raised on the Spokane Indian Reservation, had a difficult childhood, including alcoholism, bullying, and poverty, all unfortunate aspects of growing up “on the rez.” Luckily, Alexie was able to get a good education and escape his dim future before it sucked him up. Through writing, he now conveys his frustration, anger, sadness, and happiness with the Native American community.
In Blasphemy, Alexie returns to his favored short story format, all of which rotate around the Spokane Indian tribe. The short stories all have a hint of being autobiographical, but some can be read as social critiques of Native American and American society today. Take “Breaking and Entering”, for example. Alexie writes about killing an intruder in his home (again, these are not true stories). As he writes about the uncertainty and regret from the standpoint of someone just trying to protect himself, one cannot help but consider the George Zimmerman case in a new light.
Social commentary aside, Alexie also manages to convey symbolic meaning into his work. In one story, he describes salmon jumping in a creek running through his reservation. Once the salmon motif reappears in later stories, they can be seen as the short glimmers of hope Alexie has for the Native American population. It is no secret they have problems, he seems to be saying throughout the book. We should just not give up all hope because of them.
It is this hope that drives his essays along, fuels his soaring, strong prose, and lends itself to his insights on our world. His hope for the Native American community (and the world) is beautifully conveyed through the spectacular amount of emotion he puts into his writing. “What Ever Happened to Frank Snake Church”, and “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” stand out especially due to their complex tones of love and regret and for the profound depth woven into them. In this age of quick information and short, ill-planned serial novels, it is refreshing to read an author such as Alexie, an author who puts thought and meaning into his work.