The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN is Sherman Alexie’s first full-length work of fiction. Last year, Hanging Loose Press published THE BUSINESS OF FANCYDANCING (see MAGILL’S LITERARY ANNUAL, 1993), a collection of poems, stories, and vignettes praised for its myth-making power to portray the inner lives and unspoken conflicts of Native Americans caught with “one foot in the reservation and the other in the outside world.” In THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN, Alexie continues to write about a native culture whose traditions, such as pow-wows and oral storytelling, have been replaced by strip joints and Cable TV. Alexie’s characters are most often seen sitting on the porch steps of HUD houses. Not much else happens in this collection. There is a paralytic sense of stasis that strips these stories of dramatic action or conventional, conflict-centered plot.
What matters most in a Sherman Alexie story is what has already happened: not yesterday, but as long ago as one hundred years. Time is stretched elastic in Alexie’s trickster hands. He dramatizes the post-trickle-down plight of the present-day Native American in the framework of a past that is still very much alive, though not well. Alexie’s characters are trapped by a tradition whose “whole lives have to do with survival.” Yet for many of Alexie’s characters, a central question still exists. How do we live? Or, as the narrator of “Witnesses, Secret and Not,” puts it: “I had to find out what it meant to be Indian, and there ain’t no self-help manuals for that.”
The best stories in THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN shed light on the question of what it means not only to survive, but to live. This much is clear: there are no easy answers.
Alexie, Sherman. Interview by Dennis West and Joan M. West. Cineaste 23 (1998): 28-32. Alexie responds to questions about the similarities and differences between his novel The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and his movie Smoke Signals. His comments on the autobiographical elements of both are particularly interesting.
Egan, Timothy. “An Indian Without Reservations.” New York Times Magazine, January 18, 1998, 16-19. Profiles Sherman Alexie and his Indian background. Covers Alexie’s comedic look into the hardships of being a Native American; his vocal attacks on author Barbara Kingsolver; the making of film versions of his books; and the life on the reservation where he was raised.
Low, Denise. Review of The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, by Sherman Alexie. American Indian Quarterly 20 (Winter, 1996): 123-125. Low discusses the postmodern characteristics of Alexie’s novel, focusing on his use of humor and
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