RARA-AVIS: Sherman Alexie, Indian Killer

From: Karin Montin ( kmontin@sympatico.ca)
Date: 13 May 2006

This is a hard book to figure out. The problem is, I don't feel like rereading it to get a better grip on it.

Having read Ten Little Indians, a collection of Alexie's short stories, I wasn't prepared for this complete switch in tone. Kind of like Cases after 32 Cadillacs, actually. Alexie, a Spokane/Cour d'Alene Indian, can be very funny. I think he's even done standup comedy.

Indian Killer, however, is a very serious book about Indians taking revenge on whites. A serial killer strikes in Seattle, scalping the victims and leaving owl feathers behind. Others are killed, apparently by the same person, although the MO is different. A child is kidnapped and returned days later; again two owl feathers are left. A group of white guys goes out beating up Indians. A group of Indians goes out beating up white guys.

There are several main characters. John Smith is an Indian raised by white parents; he's mentally ill, probably schizophrenic. Jack Wilson's great-grandmother was supposedly Indian, and he writes "Indian" books. Then there's Marie, a militant Indian student who hates Jack Wilson and what he represents, and challenges everything her white professor of Indian literature says. Her cousin Reggie had a white father who was very violent; now he's beating up white men.

It was hard slogging to get through this book. The characters had backgrounds but not much personality. The cast seemed to have been drawn up to cover certain bases: John vs. Jack, Marie vs. Beautiful Mary (a homeless Indian woman murdered while Jack was a cop), Reggie the expelled Indian troublemaker vs. David the murdered white good student.

The ending is very dark, and the identity of the killer ambiguous (some reviewers did not find it ambiguous, but have differing opinions).

All in all, I didn't like it. The ending was unsatisfying and there wasn't a smidgen of humour. Maybe it's hard to mine the humour in an impending race war.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 13 May 2006 EDT