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.
Anyway, 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.