Once upon a time, fairy tales were your favorite reading matter.
You were thrilled with stories of nasty gnomes, ogres, and dragon-slaying heroes. There were princesses, castles, and white horses in those tales, as well as magic, witches, and mayhem. Some of those stories from your childhood had happy endings, but just as many finished in gleeful darkness.
And then you grew up. Princesses got divorced, ogres were in the next lane on the highway, and your stories became much, much more real. So maybe it’s time to read “Blasphemy,” an anthology of short stories by Sherman Alexie.
Cousins, it’s been said, are friends we happen to be related to, and with a relationship like that, it’s natural to want to do everything for a cousin who needs us. But in “Cry Cry Cry,” a cousin from the Rez asks for love, support, and secrecy.
He only gets two of the above.
In “The Toughest Indian in the World,” the narrator of the story says he always helps Indian hitchhikers. When he picks up one scarred money-fighter standing on the side of the road, he learns that even tough guys have vulnerable sides and picking up hitchhikers isn’t such a good thing sometimes.
Becoming a parent to your parent is something many of us face, but it’s particularly hard when Dad is an alcoholic, diabetic Indian with kidney damage. Add to that, old head trauma from babyhood, and one man is overwhelmed in “War Dances.”
Everyone agrees that getting an education is important to one’s future success. In “Indian Education,” going to school is a struggle for one young Indian boy – not because of what’s taught in the classroom, but because of what happens in it.
And in “The Approximate Size of My Favorite Tumor,” a man and his estranged wife learn that keeping one another laughing may put life back into their marriage, even as one of them is dying.
I’ve often said that author Sherman Alexie’s writing is an acquired taste. His stories aren’t always easy to digest, but “Blasphemy” is a chance to sample Alexie, small bite by small bite, until you’ve got a good appetite built up.
What’s unusual about these short works is that they don’t begin or end as do most tales. Stories sometimes start in the middle of a thought, and they often exit that way. In between, there’s melancholy and sadness, wry observations and get-you-thinking commentary – sentiments that make you feel as though you’ve secretly been run over by a steamroller.
The stories here – some new, some classic – also include humor that pounces on its readers without warning, and some sudden, brief lightheartedness amid pathos. Then, as if to reassure us that it’s only fiction, this book ends with a sad smile.
If you’re an Alexie fan already, here’s something you’ll be proud to put on your bookshelf. If you’re new to this author, take your time with it, savor each story, and let them hit you slowly. Like life in general, “Blasphemy” isn’t always happily ever after.