Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

The evening book group will be convening on May 13 at 7:30 p.m. to discuss The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (hereby referred to as TLRATFIH). Everyone's welcome. If you haven't heard of TLRATFIH, it's a collection of stories about life on the Spokane reservation written by Sherman Alexie, a Coeur d'Alene/ Spokane Indian.

I'm finding that interviews with Alexie Sherman (The Guardian recently compared him to Robin Williams) are a lot more fun to read than TLRATFIH, but then the book isn't meant to be light. Alexie takes the two stereotypical Indian roles - warrior and shaman - and subverts them with Victor and Thomas (this isn't my idea: Joan and Dennis West, two university professors who interviewed Alexie for Cineaste magazine, came up with it). According to The Guardian, Alexie hopes his next novel, about Thomas Builds-the-Fire, will be the "great American Indian novel that examines everything in our world."

One of the book group members has already told me she hated the all the drunkenness and alcoholism in TLRATFIH (and everything else about it too, actually), which may be explained by the fact that Alexie was still drinking when he wrote TLRATFIH. It turns out that the book club member may like the film version, Smoke Signals, better; Alexie explained to Cineaste in an interview about Smoke Signals: "As I've been in recovery over the years and stayed sober, you'll see the work gradually freeing itself of alcoholism and going much deeper, exploring the emotional, sociological and psychological reasons for any kind of addiction. . . I'm looking for the causes now, rather than the effects, and I think that's what Smoke Signals is about." Smoke Signals is mostly based on the story of Victor and Thomas going to Phoenix to get Victor's father's ashes, which in itself is based on a real event in Alexie's life (read the interview for more autobiographical details).

"An Indian Without Reservations" is a fascinating article by Timothy Egan in the New York Times Book Review about Sherman Alexie, detailing everything from the unexpected stand-up comedy he performed at a book reading to the Alexie's feud with Barbara Kingsolver and other "Indian poseurs", that is, non-Indian writers who write about Indians (Alexie's preferred word for native Americans).

Here are the discussion questions that we will use as a jumping off point.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My interpretation of the Lone Ranger program is so opposite Alexie’s it almost seems as though we watched two different shows.
My memory, keep in mind this is some 40+ years ago is:
The Lone Ranger was nothing without Tonto. They were partners. Since Tonto did not say much as a character, I took whatever he said as extremely important. The Lone Ranger may have played the hero role, but Tonto was the backbone, as many of us are. We are not the one out front, but the one pushing up the rear.
You will find in life that we cannot all be leaders, but, we ALL are supporters. Being the leader is one of the least important parts of life.
Once we understand that we all must take on the supportive role, in nature, we will be happier. Perhaps 1% of us are leaders, but 100% of us are supporters. Find comfort in knowing that the stronger role is the supportive one.
Sherman Alexie seems to indicate that we backbone supporters are not important, my feeling is totally opposite. No one can have a great life without a strong back. I personally do not mind being that strength. I do not have to be the leader, but I do want to make sure that I am helping whoever is chosen as leader do his/her best.
How old was Alexie when he watched the Lone Ranger? I was a child and I believe that my ideas about Indians were influenced by it. I was in love with Tonto, because I never really liked flashy loud people, I think they have to be loud and obnoxious to overcome insecurities or that they are pessimistic personalities.
This authors reflection of the Lone Ranger and Tonto, strikes me as a pessimistic and insecure attempt at inferring white people want to keep the Indian down.
My feelings, as a child growing up watching this show, were different. My feeling as an adult; “Don’t bully me into loving a group of people, love me into it the same way Tonto did. “
That fear fight should be over, on both sides.