Review – Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie

ten little indians“In the Washington State University library, her version of Sherwood Forest, Corliss walked the poetry stacks.  She endured a contentious and passionate relationship with this library.  The huge number of books confirmed how much magic she’d been denied for most of her life, and now she hungrily wanted to read every book on every shelf.  An impossible task, to be sure, Herculean in its exaggeration, but Corliss wanted to read herself to death.  She wanted to be buried in a coffin filled with paperbacks.” (page 5)

After reading The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, I knew that I had to read more.  I picked this up from my local library and I’m certainly glad I did.  It is a collection of short stories, which I don’t read enough of.   I always forget how much I love them until I read them, and then promptly forget about them all over again.

All the stories feature a Spokane Indian living in the Washington area, each with different obsessions, passions and motivations.  There are nine stories in all and I think that four in particular stand out more than the rest.  While some might see that as less than successful, I did enjoy reading the rest of the stories, but there were absolutely four others that were more impressive than the rest.

The Search Engine

In “The Search Engine,” Corliss Joseph becomes obsessed with a Spokane poet, only to find that he is a forklift operator that hasn’t thought about poetry or written in years.  I loved this story for its musing on literature, reading and poetry, but also on being a student and an outsider.  The quote I chose at the beginning of this post is from this story.

Can I Get A Witness

This was an odd story, but it was one of the most interesting.  A woman is at a restaurant when it is blown up by a suicide bomber.  She sees the bomber enter the restaurant and then wakes up a few minutes later, walking away from the scene of the bombing with a witness of the attack.  He takes her to his apartment to help her and she comes to several conclusions about her life.  I liked this story because it took a turn I wasn’t quite expecting and it was just fascinating.

Do You Know Where I Am?

This story reminded me immensely of Haruki Murakami.  I don’t know if it was the cat, or what.  There wasn’t even anything magical in this story, just something about it completely evoked Murakami for me.  In this story, while on a walk a young couple come across a cat.  The young woman hears it first and climbs down into the ditch to save it.  When they return it to its owners, the young man lies and said he did it.  It shakes their relationship, but they eventually get married.  I loved this story for how realistic it was, how painful, but how uplifting it was as well.

What You Pawn I Will Redeem

One of the longest stories, it also had the best title.  In this story, a drunk enters a pawn shop and sees his grandmother’s regalia priced for over $1000.  He asks the pawn shop owner if he can buy it for less, since it is rightfully his own, but the owner refuses.  He spends the night trying to raise the money, but whenever he makes any money, he spends it right away.  This story had some of my favorite quotes as well, it’s a long one but I think it’s beautiful.

8:00 AM: On the wharf, those three Aleut men still waited on the wooden bench.
‘Have you seen your ship?’ I asked.
‘Seen a lot of ships,’ the elder Aleut said.  ‘But not our ship.’
I sat on the bench with them.  We sat in silence for a long time.  I wondered whether we would fossilize if we sat there long enough.
I thought about my grandmother.  I’d never seen her dance in her regalia.  More than anything, I wished I’d seen her dance at a powwow.
‘Do you guys know any songs?’ I asked the Aleuts.
‘How about Indian songs?’
‘Hank Williams is Indian.’
‘How about sacred songs?’
‘Hank Williams is sacred.’
‘I’m talking about ceremonial songs, you know, religious ones.  The songs you sing back home when you’re wishing and hoping.’
‘What are you wishing and hoping for?’
‘I’m wishing my grandmother was still alive.’
‘Every song I know is about that.’
‘Well, sing me as many as you can.’
The Aleuts sang their strange and beautiful songs.  I listened.  They sang about my grandmother and their grandmothers.  They were lonely for the cold and snow.  I was lonely for everybody.

10:00 AM: After the Aleuts finished their last song, we sat in silence.  Indians are good at silence.
‘Was that the last song?’ I asked.
‘We sang all the ones we could,’ the elder Aleut said.  ‘All the others are just for our people.’
I understood.  We Indians have to keep our secrets.  And those Aleuts were so secretive that they didn’t refer to themselves as Indians.
‘Are you guys hungry?’ I asked.
They looked at one another and communicated without talking.  ‘We could eat,’ the elder Aleut said.”

So is this a collection about what it’s like to be Indian?  Absolutely, but it’s about so much more than that.  It’s about sadness, happiness, obsession and redemption.  I really liked it, but from other reviews I’ve read it’s no where near Alexie’s best.  It seems like a good place to start, that’s for sure.

85% – Some excellent stories, some so-so stories, but every one of them reading at least once.

Other reviews:

Did you review Ten Little Indians? Leave a note in the comments and I will link you here!

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3 thoughts on “Review – Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie

  1. I struggle with short story collections. I like my short stories like I like my books: one at a time. That’s why I love literary journals like One Story that send you one story every three weeks or so. In a collection, I get irritable. There are too many conclusions if that makes sense. 🙂 I might pick this up though to read one or two of the stories, though. Next year I want to try to read a short story every week.

  2. I mention “Ten Little Indians” in a post I recently did about Sherman Alexie — and I used the same quote you did from “The Search Engine”; I loved that quote too :-)! That was my favorite short story from this collection. You did a good job summarizing this collection.

    I tend to read short story collections over a long period of time — and maybe more than one collection at a time.

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