The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
By Sherman Alexie
I had reservations (no pun intended) about this National Book Award-winning novel—would it be littered with politically-correct Romanticism, preying on the emotions with descriptions of oppressed “Native American” life? In one respect, at least, Alexie proved my fears wrong, never once using any term but “Indian.” I mean, how many white people go around calling themselves Anglo-Saxons?
Arnie Spirit is a rez boy with no future. Booze is killing everyone around him, by inches and by big bangs. He’s smart, but what does that matter in a place where nobody pays attention to dreams? That’s why Arnie decides to switch schools, to leave the rez. The choice transforms him from an invisible nobody to a persecuted “apple": red on the outside, pure white underneath.
Alexie’s voice snapped, crackled and popped off the page—you can hear the whole book, a comfortable conversation on the sofa. Only problem is, as Arnie puts it, “That’s one more thing people don’t know about Indians: we love to talk dirty.” There should have been a disclaimer. Maybe Alexie thinks he’s just writing realistically, just getting down on the reader’s level, but I say, why encourage teenage boys to talk that way? It’s not an asset.
The story is engaging and alive, but bogged down by so much language that I’d never willingly recommend it to any of my patrons. Why don’t people write and honor books the whole family can relish? The talent is out there.