Brad's Reviews > War Dances

War Dances by Sherman Alexie
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's review
Oct 12, 09

Recommended for: Alexie fans.
Read in October, 2009

Alexie was one of the polestars of my Creative Writing days- 'The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven' is one of my favorite collections. At his best- Alexie is humorous, brokenhearted, poignant- he captures the complexities of identity- and doesn't look away from alchoholism, addiction and despair.

This book seems to illustrate the dangers of success, for writers. Largely gone are the dusty, reservation locations. Instead, we find protagonists in upscale Seattle neighborhoods- men who boast of making "$325,000 a year". The black humor of broken truck reservation misadventures is replaced with airport lounge kvetching.

Emblamatic of this is 'The Ballad of Paul Nonetheless'- the story of a philandering everyman, with injections of pop-culture pathos. He cheats on his family. His wife leaves. He has a Marvin Gaye Jr. themed breakdown in an airport security lounge. Yes, it's funny. Yes, it illustrates the fragility of maleness in this cultural moment (You've got the job. You've got the clothes. You've got the beautiful wife. You don't have satiety. You don't have peace). No, I won't remember the title of the story in a month. It would fit nicely into this month's Maxim or GQ.

It made me shake my head to read Alexie covering ground that second-tier writers mined out in the 70's.

The titular 'War Dances' has moments of grace. There's a hilarious scene involving folks of Native American extraction exchanging blankets at hospital- wryly commented upon, and self aware. The quality of prose is high, but Alexie demonstrated his mastery a decade ago.

The only thing that stuck with me from this collection was a superb poem, 'Birdwatching at Night.' In just a few clean lines, it captures the wild mystery of adolescent love, as well as the mature grief of reflection on that love from a removed distance.

Alexie fans (like me) will pick it up, no doubt- it's never boring or poorly written- but it seems strangely gentrified and distant from the outsider humor of early Alexie- much more the work of a wildly successful writer- and for my tastes- much less interesting.
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