Tuesday, April 1, 2008

bolting from the Rez

Only Sherman Alexie could have written "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian" and have carried along the reader so effortlessly, and intriguingly. It's not that a good writer couldn't imagine the hard situation and trapped circumstances described for life on the 'Rez,' but a non-Indian would probably encounter significant critical resistance to publishing such a story. So it's been a treat to have Alexi give us the 'Diary' with all its courage, and warts, and sorrows, and resilient hopes, of a boy who's been there, done that, and can talk of it in gallows humor, as well as with a great affection for the parents who tried their best to do the right thing by him.

The story gets underway with 'Junior,' or Arnold Spirit, nearing the end of his time in middle school on the Rez, and feeling like he's going to die soon if he doesn't get off the Rez. Alcoholism and unemployment are rampant, and life expectancy is mean and short. Junior conceives of attending high school off campus, at a nearby town called Reardon. Of course, this is going to be interpreted by his best friend, Rowdy, and most of the other boys on the Rez, as becoming a traitor. Regardless, he's too sensitive, and hungry for life, to let such worries dissuade him, and he makes the leap.

The boys at Reardon are at first skeptical about this kid from the Rez, but Junior has one good thing going for him. He's pretty good at basketball. And he manages to swallow his fears enough to give a good account of himself in a scuffle with one of the strapping big players on Reardon's team. Junior also acquires a serious crush on one of the Reardon girls, and it's good for a little humorous tension. Through it all he's still, of course, commuting back and forth to the Rez, where his audacity is gradually accepted by the other Indian youths. We continue to get a glimpse of existential life on the Rez, or the untimely demise of it, and we're glad that a promising boy has started his trip outward to more hopeful things.

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