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Scott Lax Blog

Sherman Alexie

I just read "War Dances," by Sherman Alexie, a short story in The New Yorker. I thought it was a pretty good story, and then it sneaked up on me and landed as a very good story. Such was the ease of his writing - he allowed the story and theme to unfold.

I reviewed his book of stories, TEN LITTLE INDIANS, for The Plain Dealer years ago, and gave it a rave review, which Alexie has used on his site and when the paperback came out. My editor at the time had me temper the review. I wrote, "Alexie has dipped a big toe into Ray Carver and John Cheever and Tim O'Brien territory," or something to that effect. She thought that was over-the-top, and asked me to cut it. Then about a dozen other newspaper reviews said basically the same thing. Still, I was able to write about what a great book it was.

He's an outstanding writer. He often writes about his vision of the modern American Indian experience in ways that are far from precious. He uses clichés sometimes, in the way that Cheever used clichés about WASPS or Roth about Jews or Baldwin about African Americans. That's what the great ones do: they turn the clichés inside out, and they don't care about being socially or academically correct, which I suppose is another way of using that old chestnut, "politically correct," which is out of style, even if it is a good phrase.

Don’t worry about being correct in that way, or precious. Make your characters honest, even if a particular character is dishonest. To try to manipulate characters to be what they’re not demeans your fiction and corrodes the truthfulness of what you write.  Read More