The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

by Sherman Alexie

Hardcover, 1993

Call number




Atlantic Monthly Press (1993), Edition: 1st, 223 pages


Fiction. Short Stories. HTML:

Sherman Alexie's darkly humorous story collection weaves memory, fantasy, and stark reality to powerfully evoke life on the Spokane Indian Reservation.
The twenty-four linked tales in Alexie's debut collection??an instant classic??paint an unforgettable portrait of life on and around the Spokane Indian Reservation, a place where "Survival = Anger x Imagination," where HUD houses and generations of privation intertwine with history, passion, and myth.

We follow Thomas Builds-the-Fire, the longwinded storyteller no one really listens to; his half-hearted nemesis, Victor, the basketball star turned recovering alcoholic; and a wide cast of other vividly drawn characters on a haunting journey filled with humor and sorrow, resilience and resignation, dreams and reality. Alexie's unadulterated honesty and boundless compassion come together in a poetic vision of a world in which the gaps between past and present are not really gaps after all.

The basis for the acclaimed 1998 feature film Smoke Signals,the Chicago Tribune noted, "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven . . . is for the American Indian what Richard Wright's Native Son was for the black American in 1940."

The collection received a Special Citation for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Fiction.

This ebook edition features a new prologue from the author, as well as an illustrated biography and rare photos from Sherman Alexie's personal collection.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member StonehamHS_Library
How do you survive in a place where everyone you know, and have ever known are alcoholics and drug abusers, and you are expected to turn out no different? The book is a series of short stories following the lives of Native Americans living on the Spokane Reservation. It is especially focused on
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young residents struggling with their identities as Native Americans and with the addictions and alcoholism common in Spokane. Though the stories follow different characters with and have different plotlines, there are common threads through the stories that string them together in and almost continuous description of the lives of the Spokane natives. In most stories the ideas of following culture and tradition are present, along with struggles with substance abuse and most commonly, their identity as Native Americans. Another important part of the book is the idea that the past is just as much a part of who you are as where and how you are raised is. In the short story “A Drug Called Tradition” Victor states that "Your past is a skeleton walking one step behind you, and your future is a skeleton walking one step in front of you."
Because the stories are told from the points of view of different people, at varying times, the author creates a vivid description of life in the reservation for everyone. The author, Sherman Alexie, admits that while the events in the book are exaggerated, the stories are autobiographical and follow events from his own childhood. This adds a depth to the story that isn’t as common in fictional works. The story is a magnificent piece of literary works, the past and present weaving in and out of each other in a way that creates a detailed understanding of Native American culture and how it was changed by the coming of the Europeans. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven is a book worth reading if there ever was one, its depth and humor creating a wonderful harmony of literary magic. -M.C.
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LibraryThing member CarlaR
At first I was not sure I would like this book. I have seen Sherman Alexie intervied and must say that he is very funny. For some reason I thought that this book would be like that and was horribly disappointed for the first 1/2 of the book. By the time I was finished I was glad that I had read it.
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He does a very good job of showing the dreams of the average Native American pitted against the reality of reservation life. At times humorous, and at other times depressing, but it's worth reading.
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LibraryThing member kitamurdock
I read this book for a bookclub and it is probably one I never would have picked out by myself, due to the title alone. I can't say that I truly enjoyed it - the author paints a depressing picture of Native American life, but it was an interesting perspective and a unique way to portray a different
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culture. What mostly struck me through reading this was the separation between the culture inside the Indian Reservation and out of it - in this book at least, it is truly like a separate country.
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LibraryThing member Maebsly
I read this book when it was first published but had lost my copy in a move and was happy when I recently found it again. I grew up in a small town not far from the Spokane Reservation and have several friends from there and had spent time there. Mr. Alexie's writing is so indicative of that place.
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Although the book is fiction, it is told with such realism. His writing style is unique and sparse but speaks volumes about the characters and gives a clear idea of what reservation life may be like. It gently speaks about issues relevant to modern Indians and native pride. It made me homesick but at the same time reminded me clearly why I left. A great book.
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LibraryThing member bragan
A collection of linked short stories -- some of them more brief character studies or bits of commentary than stories, really -- set on a Spokane Indian reservation, among characters suffering from poverty, alcoholism, and the dull ache of being crushed under the weight of someone else's history
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while slowly losing your own. I had somewhat mixed feelings about the writing; there are places where it feels almost a little too aggressively literary for my tastes, if that makes any sense. But at its best, it has a kind of bitter poetry, with a wry sense of humor underneath it, and a bleak sense of despair under that.

Also, Alexie is a genius at titles.
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LibraryThing member Polaris-
Many others have reviewed this more eloquently than I can. Suffice to say - I love Alexie's writing. His turn of phrase, his humour, his portrayal of all the heartache and institutionalised prejudices, the longing and the sorrow, take me to a place i've not ever been to before. This is good
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heartfelt writing, and I'd put Sherman right up there with Thom Jones and Etgar Keret as one of the finest short story writers around in recent years. I will definitely be reading more of his books.
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LibraryThing member JWarren42
Many of the stories are beautiful and a few hauntingly so. Unfortunately, as with all short story collections, some of the stories aren't all that good. Still, the number of good ones is larger than those that aren't, and there are a few that are more than just good. Recommended.
LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven contains a collection of short stories that are interconnected, all taking place on the same reservation and with various characters reappearing in multiple stories; in fact, about the first half of the book all centers around the character of Victor,
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although these stories alternate between first and third person points of view.

The book is sharply funny at times, but this humor is offset by the largely bleak world portrayed and peopled with pessimistic outlooks. While I found Alexie's writing beautiful, the subject matter was so depressing and almost unremittingly without hope that I'd find it difficult to wholeheartedly recommend this book. To say I "enjoyed" it would be the wrong word choice, but I am glad that I read this book. Again, Alexie's writing style is noteworthy, so that made for an overall good reading experience. But the stories touched upon so many tragedies and problems that the few hints of hope dropped on rare occasions were not enough to bolster any optimism. This is definitely not a good read if you are looking for something light and fuzzy, but the beautiful writing may win you over if you're willing to dive into some deeper themes about isolation, poverty and its negative effects, tradition versus the future, racism, and so forth.
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LibraryThing member SamSattler
Sherman Alexi’s 1993 collection of short stories is one I will long remember. The only other work of Alexi’s I had read to this point was his serial killer novel Indian Killer, so I didn’t know at all what to expect from his short stories. But from its title, The Lone Ranger and Tonto
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Fistfight in Heaven (which disappointingly turned out to be the title of one of the stories I liked least in the whole book), all the way through its twenty-two stories, this collection is special.

One of the surprises I got from the collection is that it contains two or three stories that are probably as good as any short story I’ve ever read. Another surprise is that the collection contains a couple of stories that are definitely among the worst, and least comprehensible, short stories I’ve ever read. As I said…a memorable collection. The interrelated stories in The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven are very dark, and many of them are filled with despair, but they are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, too. The stories are structured and placed within the book in a way that shares snapshots into the lives of several recurring characters throughout their lifetimes. In style, they veer all the way from the brutal realism to fantasy and magical realism, a style that almost always requires a more patient reader than I will ever be.

The despair in the stories largely comes from watching the innocence and hopes of young Native American children turn into a passive lack of hope for the future by the time they are in their early teens. The humor springs from the clever coping mechanisms that so many of the mature characters use to make their daily lives tolerable. But lurking in the background, always, are the addictions to drugs and alcohol that eventually control the lives of so many of the characters the book’s readers first meet as children.

Here are a few examples of Alexi’s style and tone:

“It’s hard to be optimistic on the reservation. When a glass sits on a table here, people don’t wonder if it’s half filled or half empty. They just hope it’s good beer.” (From “The Only Traffic Signal on the Reservation Doesn’t Flash Red Anymore”)

“While Victor stood in line, he watched Thomas Builds-the-Fire standing near the magazine rack talking to himself. Like he always did. Thomas was a storyteller that nobody wanted to listen to. That’s like being a dentist in a town where everybody has false teeth.” (From “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”)

“Victor and Thomas made it back to the reservation just as the sun was rising. It was the beginning of a new day on earth, but the same old shit on the reservation.” (Also from “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona”)

“Still, he drank his coffee straight today. In other yesterdays he poured vodka into his cup before the coffee was finished brewing. ‘Shit,’ he said aloud. ‘Nothing more hopeless than a sober Indian.’” (From “All I Wanted to Do Was Dance”)

Bottom Line: Stories like these, written by an author who observes the culture from the inside (Alexi is himself a member of the Spokane tribe and grew up on the reservation) are more revealing than anything ever likely to be produced by some sociologist or governmental bureaucrat. Books like The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven should be required reading for any outsider who believes he can solve the problems of such a unique culture by throwing money or platitudes at it. Sadly, I doubt that it was read by many/any of them. These stories, of course, were written almost thirty years ago, but there is still a lot to be learned from them and others like them.
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