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One Little, Two Little

Sherman Alexie's Ten Little Indians

With a buzzing packed house on hand, I recently had the chance to catch Sherman Alexie, author of the newly published Ten Little Indians, reading at a Booksmith event. He'd just started on his book tour and responded to a loud ovation by immediately cracking a joke about how lucky we were to catch him fresh and not so punchy, as he would be ten cities from now.

An enrolled Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, now with 14 books to his credit including novels, short fiction, screenplays, like the excellent Smoke Signals, and several books of poetry, Alexie is a master storyteller. With his latest collection, Alexie continues exploring issues close to his heart and his heritage: Indian life, post-reservation "assimilation," and the travails of love.

In the book's first story, "The Search Engine," a young Indian woman named Corliss, the first of her family to go to college, is studying literature at the local university when she stumbles upon a book of poems written by one of her tribe's members. This windfall leads her on a quest to discover more about this mysterious writer, andalso about herself. In "The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above," which Alexie read with flair and flavor at the booksigning, an Indian man reflects on his boyhood experiences with his eccentric mother, who inspired legions of white women to worship her, as he does too, but for wholly different reasons. As with all of Alexie's stories, the bittersweetness of memory commingles with the reality of modern everyday Indian life.

Throughout his reading, Alexie demonstrated the uncanny ability to set everyone at ease with his wry witty sense of humor - everyone, that is, except the one woman who asked the most politically correct, and thus Alexie-despised, question: "So, do you speak your native language?" To which Alexie replied, "Well, first let's find out how many of YOU speak you native language," to laughs and chuckles throughout the room. This comic relief balances well with Alexie's serious and highly political side.

Having first discovered Alexie when a former lit professor of mine brought his poetry into class, I have been excited to follow his varied paths from film to book to poem. Ten Little Indians is a collection of nine bold stories that further cement his influence and importance as one of the most compelling writers today.

Ten Little Indians
by Sherman Alexie
Grove Press; ISBN: 0802117449
Hardcover: 243 pages (June 2003)