War Dances, A Book Review

I guess I finished reading War Dances by Sherman Alexie back in October and never got around to reviewing it. Book reviews are sort of a new thing for me, but I’ve found it’s a nice way to provide space to reflect on what I’ve read and possibly offer something helpful for anyone considering reading the book too.

war_dancesAnyway, it’s a collection of short stories and poems which makes it great, if you read like me, in short spurts, catching time where you can with very few long stretches to gain serious traction. It also probably makes it a quick read for those of you who fly through books. That being said, there’s nothing light about the content of the book. Though Alexie usually wraps his characters and plot lines in some amount of humor, many of the stories deal with very non-funny, intense subject matter. One story is about a man who accidentally kills a young, black teenager who breaks into his house. The character grapples with his choices and actions, as well as what it means to be “innocent.” Of course, issues of race, violence, and justice come up as well.

In another story, a vintage clothes-saleman finds himself attracted to many women besides his wife, which leads to their separation, which further strains his relationship with his three teenage daughters. In the title story, a well-known writer navigates caring for his estranged father who is slowly dying a “natural Indian death” from alcohol and diabetes, during which he discovers he has a brain tumor. And these are just a handful of the powerful, well-told stories within.

I know the examples I listed don’t sound like they could be funny, but Alexie works in humor subtly, in the way that we find ways to laugh in real life, even in dark situations. I’m also a big fan of his take on father-son relationships, and what it means to be a man, a father, and a son in all of life’s complicated facets. Being Native American himself, he often works in Native American characters or perspectives within modern American society, which I think anyone will find insightful and enjoyable, but especially those outside of dominant, white culture.

  • tellio

    Did you read this in paperback or on an ereader of some sort? Just curious. Here is a collection from Kentucky writer extraordinaire, Chris Offutt: Kentucky Straight– Dark and delirous like sipping bourbon on a full moon summer’s midnight and trying to decide if the grass is really blue or not.

    And if you ever make it to Kentucky I will treat you to some very fine bourbons should you wish. Perhaps an Evan Williams 12 year old or the marvelous (and cheap) Four Roses Yellow Label.

    • luhoka

      I do like reading books via Kindle, but this one I got at the library. I find that the library pushes me to actually read the book in an amount of time that’s less than a year. If I own a book, it just sits and sits. Anyway, that Offutt book looks more than intriguing so I’ll definitely put it on the list. I’ve never been to Kentucky, but if I make it and you’re around, I’d love to look upon a field under a full moon and ponder the color of the grass;-)