I drew the ace of clubs from my short story deck, and thus this was my week 50 pick for 2015’s Deal Me In short story reading challenge. In 2015, Clubs were my suit assigned to “stories from The New Yorker” of which I’ve enjoyed many. I’ve read Alexie before and own his story collection “War Dances.” He has also been featured by other participants in the Deal Me In challenge the last couple years. Mr. Alexie was in the news earlier this year when he cancelled some appearances in Indiana amid the national “outrage” about my state’s passing of a “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” – legislation for which I (among many) didn’t believe we had any need. Politics aside, I found Alexie’s response disappointing in that it punished the wrong people (like me, or those who would attend his events – one of which was in honor of Banned Books Week(!) – and make no real impact other than publicity-wise). What did end up prompting an amendment to the law was a feared ECONOMIC impact (surprise!) to the state. For a moment, I considered removing Alexie’s story from my roster in a “ha! how do you like them apples?” tit for tat, but I thought it better to take the high road and not censor art based on political activity.
Ugh, I feel dirtied by even mentioning politics on this blog, so let’s get on with this story, which was first published in The New Yorker magazine in 2013. It’s narrated by a Native American member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe of the U.S. Northwest, a man who had a favorite uncle disappear some forty years ago. Our narrator decides he wants to hold a memorial for this uncle, now presumed dead (saying at one point “…we need to make the dead better people than they were, because it makes us look better for loving them.”), and the story follows his musings about how the uncle may have died (it is presumed that he would have contacted his family at some point over the years if he was still living – he “wasn’t the kind of person” not to do that. It also provides the opportunity for him to comment on the modern day world and conditions that the Coeur d’Alene live in.
It’s an eminently sad story, and perhaps the narrator has some self-loathing of his people too, hinted at when he refers to the uncle as a “half-assed warrior” of whom he speculates at the end of the story that:
“Maybe he thought he could kill the world and instead learned that the world is undefeated.”
I loved that line. Have you read anything by Sherman Alexie? Perhaps his most famous work is “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” which has itself been the subject of multiple book banning incidents.
This story is available online at http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/06/10/happy-trails (I believe the New Yorker allows a limited number of views per month for non-subscribers)