What is the literary style of Sherman Alexie?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In her work on Native American Writers, Susan Brill describes Alexie Sherman's writing as a mix of 

...pain and humor, hunger and survival, love and anger, broken treaties Manifest Destiny, basketball, car wrecks, commodity food, HUD houses, smallpox blankets, and promises and dreams.

Into this paradoxical mixture, Sherman fuses irony and dark humor with traditional elements of Indian mythmaking with surrealistic images, spirituality, and poetic passages. As one character describes himself,

"That's how I do this life sometimes by making the ordinary just like magic and just like a card trick and just like a mirror and just like disappearing. Every Indian learns how to be a magician and learns how to misdirect attention and the dark hand is always quicker than the white eye and no matter how close you get to my heart you will never find out my secrets...I'm traveling heavy with illusions.” 

Humor in the characters is often their coping mechanism, of course, but it comes with an acute sense of timing on the part of Sherman. Along with realistic diaries and dream imagery, narratives approach a type of stream-of-consciousness, but done in the shades of Native American states of mind. In addition, Sherman's characters delve into a mental, emotional and spiritual dimension of "fancydancing." Often there are shifts in person, using the intimate first person, then changing to a more objective and distant third person narration.

In his early story "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven," irony figures strongly as does symbolism; for example, alcoholic drinks are symbolic of the White Man who introduced them to the Native American, effecting much of their spiritual destruction. Certainly, there is always a collage, the tragic and the humorous, objective narration mixed with dreams and "fancydance," emotion with logic, tradition with the moment,representations of mind, spirit, and body, vying for attention in the reader's contemporary mind. One critic observes that Sherman's imagination “turns every word into a bottle rocket.”

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