Audible The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven –

In this darkly comic short story collection, Sherman Alexie, a SpokaneCoeur d'Alene Indian, brilliantly weaves memory, fantasy, and stark realism to paint a complex, grimly ironic portrait of life in and around the Spoke Indian Reservation Theseinterlinked tales are narrated by characters raised on humiliation and governmentissue cheese, and yet are filled with passion and affection, myth and dream There is Victor, who as a nineyearold crawled between his unconscious parents hoping that the alcohol seeping through their skins might help him sleep Thomas BuildstheFire, who tells his stories long after people stop listening, and Jimmy Many Horses, dying of cancer, who writes letters on stationary that reads From the Death Bed of James Many Horses III, even though he actually writes them on his kitchen table Against a backdrop of alcohol, car accidents, laughter, and basketball, Alexie depicts the distances between Indians and whites, reservation Indians and urban Indians, men and women, and most poetically, between modern Indians and the traditions of the past

10 thoughts on “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

  1. Casey Casey says:

    This is one of my favorite books to teach. I give it to my tenth graders. We do most of it as a read aloud. We do most of it as discussion. My students enjoy this book because they don't think they'll be able to connect with native americans on the west coast when they're alt school kids on the east coast, but then they're amazed. Some themes - poverty, alcoholism, depression, love, passion, sex, confusion, loneliness, isolation - are universal.

    This is one of the few books that I have read with a class, had a student go to jail during the reading, and come back asking to read the book and tell me about how he picked up another book about native americans while in jail because he missed LR&TFFiH so much. That's probably the best endorsement I can give a book.

  2. Nathan Nathan says:

    I finished The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven last night on the way to a speech Alexie was giving. I had enjoyed it well enough—Alexie was consistently funny and thought provoking through the entire collection—but it wasn't until afterwards, in a book signing and meet and greet that I actually got it. As I got up to the table, it became clear that I was a bit anxious. I don't do well in crowds, and I was a bit star stuck by his presence. So as I rambled through my words, he finished signing and offered to take a picture with me. Because my hands were shaking (I've never been the kind of person who's cool under pressure), he grabbed my phone, cracked a joke about how awkward I was acting, made a funny face and snapped a photo. It turned out well:
    It's this combination of humor and kindness that's almost ashamed of itself that makes Alexie so readable. He writes proud people, people who are afraid to seem vulnerable and afraid to be close to others. I think of Jimmy ManyHorses who even on his deathbed refuses to be totally open and trusting with his wife. I think of Norma who flees from both Jimmy and Junior when they each show her what they consider to be their deepest self. I think of Victor who repeatedly shuts Thomas' kindnesses out, because his sense of dignity doesn't make allowances for support and real friendship. In these flawed portraits, there are moments where the realness of the people he's created shines through. The cores of each person's identity—in terms of race, family and overarching humanity— are repeatedly exposed here, and at each instance it's clear how deeply Alexie knows that putting out in the open unexpressed pieces of oneself can just as easily feel painful, beautiful or both at once.

    I'm still amazed that Alexie was only 26 when he wrote this. I'm ridiculously excited to dive into more of his work.

  3. Mariel Mariel says:

    We have to believe in the power of imagination because it's all we have, and ours is stronger than theirs. - Lawrence Thornton

    Make me jealous. If you can make me jealous, I am yours. I was kinda jealous of the community because they HAD one, despite tearing itself down in the no-past and no-future. I kinda loved these stories. I was almost belonging to it. Sometimes I felt lonely from the possessiveness of their heroes. That kinda sucked because I've been trying hard to avoid loneliness. Sometimes I understood the loneliness that caused that and I'd have uncomfortable thoughts about why I don't feel community and communicative.
    The possessiveness is what kept them connected, and also what kept them down. The lower points were fascination in what happened. My highs were the fascination in the stories of what could be. The imagination, Mariel!

    The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven is the second recommendation I've tried from karen's readers advisory for all group. karen's project for school is to help readers think about what they are looking for in a book, helping other readers find their deepest book desires. Like the kinds of books you REALLY hope to find but seldom know about how to go towards discovery (since I'm nuts I just call them my fetishisms to myself). The criteria can get really specific. I asked for recommendations for short stories that would make me feel as Winesburg, Ohio did (in my woefully lacking in real reaching out words). The feeling of Winesburg being the connected best way as souls turned inside (it's hard to put it how I mean it!). I wanted short stories because it is hard to take that kind of closeness for long. Sometimes you can't bear to be in that life prison for, well, life.
    Christy (she hasn't read Winesburg) suggested reading 'Tonto'. Thank-you, Christy! (Check out her great review of this book that is much, much better than mine.)

    I know how all my dreams end anyway.

    I was not a fan of the introduction by the author. If you ever read the ass-patting praise quotes on the back of book jackets? Alexie gave me major vibes of buying into that. The great new voice. 'Tonto' was published in 1993. There was an indie film version, Smoke Signals . MIRAMAX DID IT. It played at SUNDANCE. Y'know, ROBERT REDFORD'S Sundance. Gasp! (I haven't seen it. That'll show those guys who used to insist I'd seen everything since the '70s. I clearly haven't!). Blah blah, it was in its tenth publication. He wanted to give a fuck you to this lady agent who didn't think the stories were ready yet, that they needed more work. Um.... The book is very good. But I don't like the feeling I get from the great new voice stuff. I think the book should live as best it can and not worry about being scene changing. What the hell is that, anyway? If you got published and it all worked out, why worry about some lady agent from freaking years ago (but not nearly long enough to be considered a classic).

    Anyway, I thought that Alexie should have taken Thomas Builds-the-Fire's advice and live for the now. I really liked Thomas. I got the trying to know how other people felt through stories feeling from him. The inventing your own reasons to live by knowing others around you through imagining what could matter to them. Community type stuff there.

    Alexie also wrote in the introduction that his detractors didn't approve of the alcoholism of his stories. I'm totally with him on that just being autobiographical. Do they really think that writing stories about people who drink is the problem in the situation? Really?
    My mom was always calling my dad a drunk Indian (he died of drink, as did five of his six brothers. The other surely will do the same). (His father was Cherokee. I'm about as Cherokee as Johnny Depp is, I guess.) That and thinking he had a Jesus beard were my earliest impressions of him. (Not that my mama spared me the abuse stories. She didn't.) My mom might have meant it as a slur. But she STILL sighs over how good looking he was (these days I think he looked like a prototype hipster). My mom would totally be one of those annoying white people written about in 'Tonto'.

    I did wonder if the introduction bitterness had to do about himself being one of the heroes who made it. That would be a funny feeling. To be a hero...

  4. Pamela Pamela says:

    We need more authors like Sherman Alexie. Being Native American in the U.S. is like living in our own foreign country within a country. No one besides an Indian REALLY knows what it is like to live on a reservation. Alexie vividly paints this picture in a no-nonsense, brutally honest way. I love that. I wish general joe-public had more of a grasp of what growing up Native American is like instead of applying the age-old stigmas of uneducated diabetic drunks who run the casinos and play BINGO.

    I love my heritage and am desperately trying to keep it alive with my children. We are a dying breed.....only a shell of what we used to be before the Europeans came...and yet so rich in culture and tenacity. I appreciate how Alexie captures this in his writing.

    Today is a good day to die. I found myself remembering some of the lingo from the rez and way it is spoken. I love how Alexie brings this in...enit, and ya~hey. I could feel the beat of the drums through each story. Echoing in the wind where ever I am..covering me in a blanket, bringing me peace.

    While on the reservation, there always seemed to be drums in the air. I would step outside the hospital during my night shift for a break and hear drums beating in the distance. Like a lullaby. An instant stress reliever. A soft breeze combing through the hairs of my arms. Comfort.

    This is what Indians are good at. Living for today. Living the NOW. is a good day to die. is a good day to read a book. Today is a good day to read Sherman Alexie.

    Bring it on dude....more, more, more....

  5. Christy Christy says:

    Alexie's collection of linked short stories is a tale of life on an Indian reservation; it is an exploration of the ways in which Indians deal with the pains and the joys of their lives (storytelling, dance, basketball, food, alcohol); it is a reflection on the relationship between past, present, and future; and it is a meditation on storytelling as a means of bearing witness and as a means of creation and change.

    The first story of the collection, Every Little Hurricane, introduces both the functions of storytelling and the interconnectedness of pain and joy. Told from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy, Every Little Hurricane describes a scene at a party in which the young protagonist watches his uncles fight in the yard: He could see his uncles slugging each other with such force that they had to be in love. Strangers would never want to hurt each other that badly (2). Immediately, we are shown this connection between hate and love, between the specific and beautiful and the dangerous and random (5). The young boy, Victor, does not really take part in the action of the story, however. He is merely a witness: They were all witnesses and nothing more. For hundreds of years, Indians were witnesses to crimes of an epic scale (3).

    The second story, A Drug Called Tradition, takes up the question of time. Three young Indian men try a new drug together, one that gives them visions of a glorious past (horse stealing, music, dance), only to be warned in the end against the seductive appeal of this past as Thomas tells them not to slow dance with [their] skeletons (21). This is explained further: Your past is a skeleton walking one step behind you, and your future is a skeleton walking one step in front of you (21) Sometimes these skeletons can trap you or they may try to tempt you, but what you have to do is keep moving, keep walking, in step with your skeletons. . . . [and] no matter what they do, keep walking, keep moving. And don't wear a watch. Hell, Indians never need to wear a watch because your skeletons will always remind you about the time. See, it is always now. That's what Indian time is. The past, the future, all of it is wrapped up in the now. That's how it is. We are trapped in the now (22). The past, tradition, can be glorious, Thomas warns the young men, but looking only backward is dangerous; similarly, looking only forward to a potential future is dangerous. Both are dangerous because they prevent a clear vision and an actual experience of the actual, present, real world.

    In Imagining the Reservation, Alexie presents a formula that is key to the entire book. He writes, Survival = Anger X Imagination. Imagination is the only weapon on the reservation (150). He notes the limitations of imagination, asking, Does every Indian depend on Hollywood for a twentieth-century vision? (151) and How can we imagine a new language when the language of the enemy keeps our dismembered tongues tied to his belt? How can we imagine a new alphabet when the old jumps off billboards down into our stomachs? (152). But he also ends the story with a call for more imagination, for imagination that has concrete results:

    There are so many possibilities in the reservation, 7-11, so many methods of survival. Imagine every Skin on the reservation is the new lead guitarist for the Rolling Stones, on the cover of a rock-and-roll magazine. Imagine forgiveness is sold 2 for 1. Imagine every Indian is a video game with braids. Do you believe laughter can save us? All I know is that I count coyotes to help me sleep. Didn't you know? Imagination is the politics of dreams; imagination turns every word into a bottle rocket. Adrian, imagine every day is Independence Day and save us from traveling the river changed; save us from hitchhiking the long road home. Imagine an escape. Imagine that your own shadow on the wall is a perfect door. Imagine a song stronger than penicillin. Imagine a spring with water that mends broken bones. Imagine a drum which wraps itself around your heart. Imagine a story that puts wood in the fireplace. (152-3)

    The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven is a book that is not without hope, but it is a hope that is thoroughly aware of what has lost that cannot be regained and of what losses may be sustained in the future. It is a hope that dares not look into the future at the expense of the present or the past. Alexie writes in the final story, Witnesses, Secret and Not, that sometimes it seems like all Indians can do is talk about the disappeared (222), asking at what point do we just re-create the people who have disappeared from our lives? (222). At what point is the storytelling and the memory a new creation and what is the cost of this memory and this creation? Imagination--the key component of both this kind of memory and of storytelling--he seems to say, is both a burden and a tool.

  6. J.K. Grice J.K. Grice says:

    What's not to love about Sherman Alexie??? Funny and wicked sharp.

  7. Xueting Xueting says:

    This is one of his earlier short story collections, and I think Sherman Alexie definitely got better at writing later on in his career. Several of the stories here left me skimming because I was confused, bored or both. Some ended too abruptly. In some, it felt like Alexie was going a bit too experimental on the structure and I got lost.

    But most of the stories were so excellent. That's why short story collections are so hard to review, for me, because they can be pretty uneven or inconsistent like this one. The second half in the collection had much better stories than the first half. I like the stories that had Thomas Builds-the-Fire, especially the Phoenix, Arizona story. The first story (Every Little Hurricane) was a great opening story, the one with that crazy-long title (the longest one) that mentions Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock was also good.

    The standouts to me are Imagining the Reservation, the My favourite tumor story, the titular story, and Witnesses, Secret and Not.

    I find Sherman Alexie a remarkable and special writer because of how he blends sharp humour with the realism of life as a Native American, on a reservation. His humour is so self-aware and not too serious to be a satire, such that I can actually enjoy thinking about the real political and cultural issues behind each story. Even if the characters don't seem to have hope, I want to hope for them. That's really rare and so skilfully done here.

  8. Betsy Robinson Betsy Robinson says:

    The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

    Many years ago I worked in a hub for indigenous peoples and storytellers from all over the world, and I think they taught me a lot—most of it not through ordinary words. Whether they were Native Americans or African shamans or People of the South American Forests or Aboriginal Australians, the thing they had in common was an inclusive view of all life: everything is alive; there is no division between all that is life or between incarnate and spirit. In white people's terms: there is no difference between metaphor and common reality, dreamland or awake time, imagination and history; they are one, in one flow, and interchangeable.

    Although The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is an uneven collection of short stories (some immaturely written, others mature), what I appreciate is that Sherman Alexie wrote straight, sharing life on the reservation and his people and their point of view without explaining or in any way trying to package it for white culture. Some stories are pure expressions of despair; some are funny; some are like free-verse poetry, and all of them express what it is to live in white culture but to be made in and of a culture that has been assaulted for centuries, a culture that sees things differently so that one's experiences are different. This alone makes this book worth reading and learning from—even if you can't follow things like a man becoming a pony in the 1800s and then floating around in time.

    The reservation doesn't sing anymore but the songs still hang in the air. Every molecule waits for a drumbeat; every element dreams lyrics. Today I am walking between water, two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen, and the energy expelled is named Forgiveness.
    (p. 150, Imagining the Reservation)

  9. Christine Christine says:

    Maybe Alexie's best book--rough and eloquent, sweet and brutal, smoky and colorful and moving, always honest--made we want to write so bad it hurt. I found it in City Lights in SF when I was on a $300 Tercel-no-air-conditioning but a pup tent honeymoon. It's a book I always go back to. Have been following his work since...god, a long time. First went to a fiction panel he was on at Writers@Work, then in bright white Park City. My husband was the only native in the audience, maybe in the building, maybe in Park City. Everything I write, I write to spite the white people who had set me up to fail, he opening of sorts. White people in audience said things like, If I want to learn about Native Americans, I go to white people because they're objective and unbiased. HOly mother of god. I live on the same planet with these people? And we're stuck within the same atmosphere, you say? But Alexie held his own with the little chimps, and we (David and I) had a new hero. At one point, white-guy-with-cough-cherokee-grandma said I once sat in a ceremonial circle with ten traditional Lakota medicine men and Alexie says, If you once sat in a circle with ten traditional Lakota medicine men, they were neither Lakota nor traditional. Or SOMETHING like that...don't quote me on it. Hubby and I were in love with Alexie immediately and forever. Of course, I already had a good start, having read Lone Ranger...oh! and poetry before that, I think, still in Moscow Idaho, I think...

    But I'm still reading his most recent. Over the long long long holidays my husband read ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY... on his side of the bed while I read THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD on mine. Our conversations (just not with each other): Oh. Oh! Oh, god. Fuck me. Oh my fucking god. Amazing. So beautiful. One more. One more paragraph. Wow. One more page. Just one, one, one, one... Had to turn the radio on so our children wouldn't hear. Too stunned for sex, we'd just try to sleep like that--book closed finally, knowing we've got too much work to do a.m., looking at the ceiling anyhow, hands buzzing, head buzzing, thinking of all the lovely possibilities and tongues of phrase. Thinking of all we could let go of to find that thing Alexie found or Zora found...that evocative elixir that makes you want to simultaneously die and live and pull like taffy (not like THAT...I'm a girl, nothing to pull but the longitudes themselves), then just slice off that way quietly, left to think ourselves to bliss. But now it's my turn for ABSOLUTELY TRUE. So, good night.

  10. Evonne Evonne says:

    OMG... So glad that I'm done with this book!