The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

As many of you have written before, it can feel daunting to write about a Five-Star Read. The sense of wanting to do a book justice is palpable. Sherman Alexie is one of my favorite writers, despite having previously read only one of this books (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. It’s one of my favorite books ever. I’ve listened to it and read it with my eyes, and I highly recommend both experiences.) I came to love him through listening to his podcast with fellow author Jess Walter – A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment. It’s on (maybe?) permanent hiatus but you can still listen to the episodes wherever you find podcasts. The two authors are good friends and just have a marvelous time together discussing books, basketball, the writing process, and interviewing authors. But I digress.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven is a collection of short stories, published in 1993. I managed to space my reading out over nearly a month, just reading one story a day. Previously my short story collection habit was to blow through the collection like a novel, often becoming bored and restless near the end. But reading one story a day was a nice little break from my other reading, and it gave me time to sit with the story and think about it. I’m indebted to Buried in Print for inspiring me to approach short stories differently.

81bZLWAAi0LThese stories have a typically Alexie-like tone, a mixture of sadness and humor, a wry, understated humor. They often contain magical elements, dreams, visions. They are about broken families, life on and off the Spokane Indian Reservation (Alexie uses the term Indian throughout, not Native American.) They are about drunkenness, losing and finding love, powwows, friendships, basketball, quests, stories.

Uncle Moses gave no thought to his passing on most days. Instead, he usually finished his sandwich, held the last bite of bread and meat in his mouth like the last word of a good story.

“Ya-hey,” he called out to the movement of air, the unseen. A summer before, Uncle Moses listened to his nephew, John-John, talking a story. John-John was back from college and told Moses that 99 percent of the matter in the universe is invisible to the human eye. Ever since, Moses made sure to greet what he could not see.     

91AYFwSXGoL._SY679_This was a strong collection, with hardly any clunkers. One of my favorite stories was “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona,” the bones of which formed the movie Smoke Signals. Alexie wrote the screenplay for it, which I didn’t know back when I saw it in 1998. (I watched it again last week, and it was still good. It’s a bit more comedic than the stories here, but still worth a watch.) Anyway, the gist of the story is that Victor’s father, who had left the family long ago and moved to Phoenix, has died. Victor wants to go get his ashes and a little money his dad left him but doesn’t have the money for the trip. Thomas Builds-the-Fire is another Indian on the reservation who grew up with Victor. They were friends for a time, but as they grew older, Thomas started having visions and his stories started weirding people out. He was a “storyteller that nobody wanted to listen to.”  He offers Victor the money to collect his father’s ashes, but in return wants to accompany him on the trip.

“Victor, I’m sorry about your father,” Thomas said.

“How did you know about it?” Victor asked.

“I heard it on the wind. I heard it from the birds. I felt it in the sunlight. Also, your mother was just in here crying.”

It’s a quietly beautiful story about Victor learning to see the father who left him in a little bit of a different light, through a story that Thomas tells him. It’s a story about two former friends making peace with one another but not quite becoming friends again.

“Wait,” Thomas yelled suddenly from his porch. “I just got to ask one favor.”

Victor stopped the pickup, leaned out the window, and shouted back. “What do you want?”

“Just one time when I’m telling a story somewhere, why don’t you stop and listen?” Thomas asked.

“Just once?”

“Just once.” 

Victor waved him arms to let him know that the deal was good. It was a fair trade, and that was all Victor has ever wanted from his whole life. So Victor drove his father’s pickup toward home while Thomas went into his house, closed the door behind him, and heard a new story come to him in the silence afterwards.

Alexie’s writing is simple in style but complicated and hefty in substance. I love reading a story where things aren’t tied up neatly in a bow, but instead feel like a mixed bag of emotions. Those kinds of stories ring true, feel like life. I am so glad I finally read this (one of my own books – yay!) I want to read everything Alexie has written and will write in the future. He’s a storyteller worth savoring.

Have you read this, or any other of Alexie’s works? Have you seen the movie Smoke Signals? Talk to me in the comments!

24 thoughts on “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

  1. My first introduction to Alexis was the The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian. I loved it. I Was Dances and The Lone Ranger & Tonto are on one of my many challenges reading list. I like the idea of reading a short story a day. Makes sense. Thanks for sharing that idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s funny, most of the stories have characters named either Victor, Junior, or Arnold, and I don’t think they’re all the same people. 🙂 Oh this is a good collection. You can’t go wrong with it or with Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.


  2. I’ve read Alexie’s work. He reminds me of Junot Diaz: both write the same stories and people repeatedly. The only thing I don’t like about Alexie is he’s the only Native American writer people know (not his fault, lol). And can I just say I used to get SO EXCITED about powwows.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it STINKS that I can count on one hand the Native American writers I know. (And part of that is my fault for not investigating super thoroughly.) But I think we desperately need more #ownvoices published from those voices.


  3. Thanks for the shout-out and I am so ridiculously happy that taking a run at short stories from a different direction has allowed you to enjoy them more. Well, I’m sure Alexie’s talent and compassion has a good bit to do with your success to, along with your own willingness to try something different. BTW, I did finally get the first episodes of Tiny Bit and just listened to the first episode last week and loved it. I am going to have to parse them out, and that’s just fine, as I have a million episodes of other things to listen to (and, still, On Being, yet to try even just one). Which reminds me, I need to fit another one (or two) of Jess Walter’s books into 2018 as well! And, yes, I loved Smoke Signals. A northern indigenous writer I think you would enjoy as an Alexie fan is Richard van Camp, who also writes short fiction and a novella, The Lesser Blessed (also made into a film). Not sure how much luck you would have in your library system, but the humour and characterization is very Alexie-ish. Once you start to look for indigenous writers, you will have trouble reading them all!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I guess if you’re a big Alexie Sherman fan then I would recommend his memoir which I listened to as an audiobook last year. I liked the audio b/c he reads it and you get a good sense of him from it. It’s good too how you mention reading short stories one at a time per day. That’s perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

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