Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tribeless Indian Seeks Sense of Self Sherman Alexie Blends Mystery with Commentary

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tribeless Indian Seeks Sense of Self Sherman Alexie Blends Mystery with Commentary

Article excerpt

INDIAN KILLER

A novel by Sherman Alexie

420 pages, Atlantic Monthly Press, $22 ***** SHERMAN ALEXIE, a 30ish Spokane-Coeur D'Alene Indian, is the most celebrated of a younger generation of Native American writers. His collections of poems, "The Business of Fancy Dancing," and short stories, "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven," drew wide praise, with the New York Times labeling Alexie "one of the major lyric voices of our times." "Reservation Blues," his uneven first novel that leaned heavily toward satire, showed flashes of brilliance. In "Indian Killer," Alexie's writing sparks on all cylinders: he tells a tale full of both terror and humor, gripping as both a mystery story and a revealing commentary on the place of Native Americans within the larger society. The story moves at a rapid pace. But the thriller trappings ultimately give way to its larger, more significant themes. The story centers on John Smith, an Indian of unspecified tribal origin, who is taken from his 14-year-old mother for adoption shortly after his birth. Smith is raised by white parents who treat him well and give him a middle-class upbringing. He is a good boy but always aware of his difference as a brown child with white parents moving through predominantly white settings. He longs to identify with his Indian ancestry, but knows nothing specific about his parents or tribal heritage. Upon graduation from high school, Smith refuses to attend college as his parents wish, and instead gets a job in high-rise construction because he read somewhere that such work is a specialty of Mohawk Indians. Smith proves to be a good worker, but his behavior becomes increasingly erratic. He never fraternizes with other workers and becomes more and more withdrawn. He attends events where Indians congregate but, lacking tribal identity or any specific frames of reference, never seems to fit in. He feels like a fake Indian. Parallel to Smith's story we follow an unnamed killer who randomly stalks and brutally kills white men, scalping his victims and leaving owl feathers to indicate that the crime was committed by an Indian. All signs point to Smith as the killer, but Alexie never lets us be sure. …

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