cover image The Toughest Indian in the World

The Toughest Indian in the World

Sherman Alexie. Atlantic Monthly Press, $24 (238pp) ISBN 978-0-87113-801-9

A prolific novelist, poet and screenplay writer, Alexie (Indian Killer; Reservation Blues) has been hailed as one of the best young writers of his generation. This dexterous second collection of stories contains what may be one of the best short fiction pieces of the year. ""The Toughest Indian in the World"" follows a young Spokane Indian who works at an all-white newspaper in Seattle and, in a forlorn attempt to reconnect with his roots, has his first homosexual experience with a tough Lummi fighter. It's a moving story that skillfully employs symbolism and flashbacks to construct an ending that is both uplifting and sorrowful. Many of the eight other stories in this collection also deal with urban Indians who are straddling two worlds: an intimate but indigent life on the reservation and an affluent but strange and sometimes hostile white middle-class existence. Their solutions to this double bind are rarely ordinary. ""Assimilation"" tells of a Coeur d'Alene woman who deliberately cheats on her white husband, only to rediscover her affection for him in the middle of a traffic jam. ""Class"" features a Spokane who sometimes tells white women he's Aztec, because ""there were aphrodisiacal benefits from claiming to be descended from ritual cannibals."" In ""South by Southwest"" a white man and a fat Indian nicknamed Salmon Boy, who declares he's not homosexual but does believe in love, set off on a nonviolent killing spree. Two tales, ""Saint Junior"" and ""A Good Man,"" deal with marriage and death on the rez. The anger in these narratives is leavened by Alexie's acerbic wit and his obvious belief in the redemptive power of love. One exception, however, is ""The Sin Eaters,"" an apocalyptic tale in which America's Indians are rounded up into massive underground prisons where soldiers force them to breed and give up their blood. Humorous, disturbing, formally inventive and heartwarming, Alexie's stories continually surprise, revealing him once again as a master of his craft. Agent, Nancy Cahoon, N. Stauffer Assoc. (May)