The first story in Sherman Alexie’s War Dances involves a guy who tragically, accidentally, kills an intruder – a black teenager who has never been in trouble with the law. Right wing pundits praise him for his heroism, left wing pundits cry racial bias. Sitting at home, watching live coverage of the intruder’s family holding a vigil, George Wilson is irked when the news reports that he is a white man. He calls to set the record straight, and the first comment anyone hears him make on the case is that he’s not white, he’s Spokane Indian. Wilson instantly becomes the most hated man in Seattle. It’s a cringeworthy, hilarious scene that only Alexie could craft.
George Wilson says that people usually assume he’s “half of whatever they are” (IE, Italians think he’s half Italian, Brazillians think he’s half Brazillian, etc). Touring for Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Alexie said those words of himself. I know where both of them are coming from. Indians are everywhere, but since we’re not wearing headdresses and warpaint, no one sees us. It’s frustrating. It’s part of being Indian. It’s the outsider’s view, coming from people who were here first.
Reading “Breaking and Entering” made me laugh out loud. It also made me teary-eyed just admiring the man’s vibe. Will everyone have that experience? Maybe not. But if you’ve refused to read Alexie because you’re not into all that Indian stuff (or whatever you say to yourself when you’re avoiding awesome; I don’t know why you hate fun), then you’re missing out on some masterful writing. As Alexie writes, a person’s identity goes so much deeper than what race his parents happened to be. His characters, of every race, are the real deal. He’s fun, heartfelt, and genuine, and his words will make your day brighter.
I’m biased as hell because his books have meant so much to me and my family – note the “hero worship” tag – but I promise I wouldn’t waste your time recommending a book that sucks.