Alexie, Sherman. “The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above.” Ten Little Indians. New York: Open Road, 2003.
Reason read: June is Short Story Month
A man looks back at his childhood to paint a picture of his mother, Estelle. As a member of the Spokane Indian tribe and a force to be reckoned with, Estelle was by turns someone to admire and someone to avoid. Sounds like practically every mother I know. She spent most of her lift as a spiritual guru to white women as she adores their culture over her own.
Quote to quote, “I wasn’t a vegetarian by choice, I was a vegetarian by economic circumstance” (p 42).
Author fact: Alexie has won a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
Book trivia: Ten Little Indians actually only has nine stories.
Nancy said: Pearl included Alexie in her list of short stories she most enjoyed.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 102).
June was all about giving up various elements of my life for the sake of family. I’ll go off the book review protocol to say one nice gesture threw off a myriad of plans. Because of one nice gesture I:
- sacrificed a camping trip,
- postponed my first trip of the season to Monhegan,
- cancelled plans with my mother,
- lost four training days,
- lost hours of sleep but gained a kink in my back due to sleeping on an air mattress,
- got behind on reading and writing end of year reports,
- spent more money than I budgeted due to a cancelled flight,
- missed a day of work, and
- have no idea if I actually helped or not.
Anyway. Enough of that. On with the books:
- Book of Reuben by Tabitha King
- Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
- Sun Storm by Asa Larsson
- Soldiers of God by Robert Kaplan
- From a Persian Tea House by Michael Carroll
- Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov
- Because of the Cats by Nicholas Freeling
- Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian
- Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope
- “Shadow Show” by Clifford Simak
- “The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above”
by Sherman Alexie
- “At the Rialto” by Connie Willis
- “The Answers” by Clifford Simak
- “Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield
- “What You Pawn I will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie
- “Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx
- “Harrowing Journey” by Joel P. Kramer
- “Ado” by Connie Willis
Alexie, Sherman. “What You Pawn I Will Redeem.” Ten Little Indians. New York: Penguin, 2004.
Reason read: June is National Short Story month.
If the idea of countdowns or running of out time makes you anxious, this short story might make the sweat bead on your brow just a little. The main protagonist, Jackson Jackson, spots his grandmother Agnes’s stolen powwow regalia in a pawnshop window. She had lost her battle with breast cancer so the regalia is all that the grandson would have left of her…if he can get it back. The shop owner makes a deal to sell back the regalia for $1,000. There is only one problem. No one Jackson Jackson knows has $1,000. As an additional gesture of kindness, the pawnshop owner gives the grandson twenty bucks and twenty-four hours to come up with the rest of the cash. The clock is ticking, however the twenty immediately vanishes in the form of “three bottles of imagination.” It might infuriate the reader but subsequently every time Jackson comes into money it is frittered away on something else. Hamburgers vomited back up. Losing lottery tickets. A cigar that will only burn away to nothing. Drinks with strangers. A round for everyone at the bar. But it is the kindness of strangers that gives our hero a break.
Line that stayed with me for obvious reasons, “Indian alcoholics are either sprinters or marathon runners” (98).
Author fact: Alexie has lived on the Spokane Indian Reservation.
Book Story trivia: “What You Pawn…” was first published in the New Yorker Magazine in 2003.
Nancy said: nothing specific.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 102). The reading of this story marks the completion of this chapter.
This has become a morbid joke but I’m not going to the island so there is no chance of me jumping off anything this month. There is time for books, though. Here’s the list:
- Book of Reuben by Tabitha King – in honor of June being the month when a lot of people (my sister included) like to get married.
- Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – in honor of Suicide Prevention Day being in June in some states.
- Sun Storm by Asa Larsson – in honor of Larsson’s birth month being in June.
- Soldiers of God by Robert Kaplan – in honor of Kaplan’s birth month being in June.
- From a Persian Tea House by Michael Carroll – in recognition of Khomeini’s death in the month of June.
- Because of the Cats by Nicholas Freeling – to continue the series started in May.
- Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the never-ending series started in January.
- Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope – to continue the series started in April.
- Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian – to continue the series started in May.
Short stories for National Short Story Month:
- “Shadow Show” by Clifford Simak
- “The Answers” by Clifford Simak
- “The Life and Times of Estelle…” by Sherman Alexie
- “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie
- “Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield
- “At the Rialto” by Connie Willis
“Live a life steeped in experiences.” That’s what my tea bag therapist said this morning. I’m not sure what to make of that advice, considering I have been passing each day as if waiting for something, but not exactly sure what.
I keep going back to the hospital for x-rays and answering mind-throttling questions like, “when did you break your back? How long have you been having extremity nerve pain?” Nearly passing out from lack of comprehension, I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t, but at that moment I sat there in silence with a stuck-in-dumb expression on my face. Yes, my back hurts from time to time, but broken? Yes, I have been complaining about my hands and feet falling asleep, but pain? I was there to get my protruding rib cage scrutinized. Now they tell me it’s a nodule on my lung and abnormally high white blood cell counts. “Probably a viral infection,” the nurse said of my white blood cell count. This was before the nodule on my left lung (25% malignant cancer) was a reality via CT scan. Are the two related? Am I falling to pieces? Sure feels that way. In the meantime, I have buried myself in books:
Fiction (Lots of books for kids and young adults):
- David and the Phoenix by Edward Ormondroyd (AB): a book for children, added in honor of Fantasy Month.
- The Pinballs By Betsy Byars: another kids book added in honor of Adoption month.
- Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko.
- Martin Dressler: the Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser.
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (EB).
- Foolscap, or, the Stages of Love by Michael Malone.
- Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller.
- She’s Not There: a Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan.
- The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah.
- Expecting Adam: the Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Magic by Martha Beck (AB)
- Scales of Gold by Dorothy Dunnett.
Silko. Ceremony. New York: Penguin Books, 1986,
Reason read: November is American Indian Heritage month.
I like to compare reading Silko to drinking a icy cold glass of limoncello. It is not the kind of thing you gulp down in chug-a-lug like fashion. It is better to take in small sips of the scenes in order to let them slide over your subconscious and filter slowly into your brain. Think of it this way. It is as if you have to give the words time to mellow and ultimately saturate your mind.
First things first. When you get into the plot of Ceremony what you first discover is that Tayo is a complicated character. After being a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II, alcoholism, battle fatigue (now called post traumatic stress disorder), mental illness, and guilt all plague Tayo. It’s as if threads of guilt tangle in his mind, strangling his ability to comprehend reality, especially when other veterans on the Laguna Pueblo reservation turn to sex, alcohol and violence to cope. Friends are no longer friendly.
Next, what is important to pay attention to are the various timelines. There is the time before the war and the time after at the mental health facility with the timeline with Thought (Spider) Woman, Corn Woman, and Reed Woman. Each timeline dips back and forth throughout the story. Tayo struggles to reconcile what it means to be Native American, with all its traditions and beliefs, with the horrors of war and captivity. How does one as gentle as Tayo forgive himself for being a soldier? “He stepped carefully, pushing the toe of his boot into the weeds first to make sure the grasshoppers were gone before he set his foot down into the crackling leathery stalks of dead sunflowers” (p 155). He can’t even inadvertently harm a bug.
Interspersed between the plot are pages of lyrical poetry.
Throughout it all, I found myself weeping for Tayo’s lost soul.
Quotes I liked, “Somewhere, from another room, he heard a clock ticking slowly and distinctly, as if the years, the centuries, were lost in that sound. (p 98) and “But as long as you remember, it is part of the story we have together” (p 231).
Author fact: Silko was born in Albuquerque in 1948, the same year as my mother.
Book trivia: As I mentioned earlier, Silko’s poetry is part of the story.
Nancy said: Nancy said Leslie Marmon Silko is one of her favorite American Indian writers.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “American Indian Literature” (p 23).
What do you do when the most inappropriate sentiment unexpectedly comes out of someone’s mouth? A confession that should never have left the lips of the confessor? Instead of thinking of the actions I should take I chose to take none. I do nothing. Distance makes it easy to ignore and deny. When I can’t avoid I read. Here are the books started for November:
- Foolscap, or, the Stages of Love by Michael Malone – Malone was born in the month of November; reading in his honor.
- Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko – in honor of November being Native American Heritage month.
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman – November is National Writing month. Choosing fantasy for this round.
- Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller – Routsong’s birth month was in November. Reading in her honor.
- Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser – reading in honor of Millhauser’s birth place, New York City.
- Expecting Adam: a True Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Everyday Magic by Martha Beck – in honor of my mother’s birth month.
- The Caliph’s House by Tahir Shah – in honor of Morocco’s independence was gained in November.
- Scales of Gold by Dorothy Dunnett – to continue the series started in honor of Dunnett’s birth month in August.
Fun: nothing decided yet.
Early Review: I have been chosen to receive an early review but I will refrain from naming it in case it doesn’t arrive.
Earling, Debra Magpie. Perma Red. New York: BlueHen Books, 2002.
Perma Red takes place in the 1940s on a Wyoming Indian Reservation where ancient customs prevail and old secrets hang heavy. Louise White Elk is a contradictory girl. Independent yet needy. Brave yet frightened. An orphan with family. Louise is also has attention of many men. The list of attendees is long: trouble maker Baptiste Yellow Knife; cousin Charlie Kicking Woman (Perma’s Tribal police officer); rich man Harvey Stoner; and mystery man Jules Bart. They all want something from her whether it be under the guise to own her or protect her. They all end up using her or abusing her. At one time or another they all get their way. It is a ruthless existence. Yet, Louise welcomes it in her own strange way. She perpetuates the vicious cycle of running away at the same time as being drawn to violent and needy men. What keeps Perma Red magical is its descriptive language. The landscape is as wild and as beautiful as untamed Louise White Elk.
Ages are vague. Charlie is at least seven or eight years older than Louise and Bapstiste is older by three years or so. The reader never gets a sense of how old Louise is supposed to be when her experiences are described as coming of age and womanly all at once.
Favorite sentences, “Louise sat down at the bar long enough so no one would recognize her broken heart” (p 43), “together their thinness made them appear stingy and dangerous” (p 64), and “I felt heavy with marriage” (p 114).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “American Indian Literature” (p 23).
Strange observation – the author’s name is a footnote on every even page. I’ve never seen that before so it seems a little hubris to me.
King, Thomas. Truth & Bright Water. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999.
The title of this book fascinates me. Here’s why: I’m reading the book in honor of April being National Dog Month (indeed there is a dog named Soldier in the book), yet the story is about two coming-of-age Native boys. The title comes from the geography. Truth is an American town on one side of a river and Bright Water is a reserve on the Canadian side of the same river. Truth and Bright Water are sister cities, or tiny towns to be exact.
Truth & Bright Water is more about a Native teenage boy named Tecumseh than it is about the small towns of Truth and Bright Water which he calls home. Tecumseh is fifteen and life for him consists of keeping peace with his separated parents, keeping his abused cousin company, learning how to drive, trying to find a job, understanding what it means to be Indian during tourist season, unraveling the mysteries surrounding his aunt, and finding things like a baby’s skull with his dog, Soldier. While Tecumseh is an average kid his community is anything but. Truth & Bright Water opens with Tecumseh and his cousin, Lum, spying on a woman who not only empties a suitcase over a cliff, but appears to have jumped off after it. Was it suicide? Then there is Monroe Swimmer, a famous artist returned home, who lives in a church and has big plans to make said church disappear. And what of the baby’s skull found with a ribbon threaded through its eye holes?
There are several quotes that I liked. Here’s one, “…maybe ground squirrels… are just like people. some are lucky, and some aren’t. Some get to drive nice cars, and some end up by the side of the road” (p 91).
There are several scenes that I also liked. I thought the dialogue between Tecumseh and any adult was amusingly accurate. Tecumseh would ask a question and to avoid answering it the adult would ask a different question over it or simply ignore his question completely. In several instances Tecumseh and the adult are having two different conversations that only converge if the subject isn’t sensitive. Here’s an example of a conversation between Tecumseh and his mother who has been gone on vacation:
“So, how was Waterton?”
“”You need to put your sleeping bag away,” says my mother.
“Did you stay at that fancy hotel?”
“And you forgot to knock all the mud off your shoes.”
“I suppose you took the bus out to the lake” (p 203).
Tecumseh wants information about where his mother went and she is clearly ignoring the questions. Tecumseh sums it up later by saying, “Sometimes the best way to get my mother talking about a particular topic is to change the subject and then work your way back to where you wanted to be” (p 204). Classic. The whole book is full of scenes like this. I liked King’s writing so much that I’m definitely adding him as a favorite author on LibraryThing.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in two different chapters. First, in “American Indian Literature” (p 23) and again in “Great Dogs of Fiction” (p 104).