2013 Review: Blasphemy


Author: Sherman Alexie
Published By: Grove Press
Pages: 465

Review by Christine Smith

Author Sherman Alexie never fails to make you laugh when you read one of his books. Blasphemy is an anthology of 15 of his classics, such as “War Dances,” “The Toughest Indian in the World,” and “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven”, and a compilation of 16 new stories.

Thought-provoking and intriguing, Alexie’s characters in each story grapple with such issues as racism, resilience, damaging stereotypes, poverty, alcoholism, broken marriages and single parenthood, domestic violence, the loss of languages and customs, diabetes, dreams of days gone by and homophobia.

It is about resilience, for example, when you read “The Toughest Indian In the World,” and how a fighter relays a story about a battle between himself and a kid to a features newspaper writer while hitchhiking. The kid’s a boy called a Flathead; a kid who would not go down no matter how many times he was hit.

There’s the story of “Whatever Happened to Frank Snake Church,” a 40-year-old Native man who is living on memories from the past as he tries to re-invent himself. With both his parents gone—orphaned at 39-years-old—Snake Church quits his well-paying job as a forest ranger, hires a personal trainer to help him get himself back into shape to play basketball, a game that he was good at in his younger years.

You feel Snake Church’s pain and empathize with the urgency of his grief as he undergoes a physical and emotional transformation. You feel it when he removes art from the walls of his apartment and sells it through want ads and garage sales, disconnects his phone and permanently stops his mail, or when he piles up old blankets and quilts that have been in his family for more than 80 years and gives them away to his neighbors without any thought, or scoops up various knickknacks and sentimental souvenirs and sets them out on the corner for strangers to carry away. You identify with these actions of a grief-stricken man, because it is like he is purging himself of the memories that remind him of his parents and his past, so that he can start anew.

Another story that really plays on the emotions is “Indian Country.” Indian Country is about a Native woman who has fallen in love with a white woman, and how the parents are unable to accept that their daughter is gay. They come from the reserve and try to talk their daughter into leaving her girlfriend, only to get embroiled in a fight with a passing stranger Low Man, and their daughter and her girlfriend. The fight has their daughter walking away, and as the daughter does, the father rushes her and says, “You’re coming with us.” When the daughter says no, the father walks back to his wife in defeat, where they both cry. Low Man calls after the father.

“What are you going to do? “What are you going to do when she’s gone?”

Sherman Alexie is a master at the craft of writing short stories. His stories bring about a blend of emotions. They can have you laughing, crying, angry or sad. This book is highly recommended.