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Review: Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie

The Native American author's new collection is full of campfire tales that haunt the reader with men whose choices lead to misfortune

Photograph: Anna Simonak

By Sherman Alexie. Grove Press, $27.

In the first story in Sherman Alexie’s latest anthology of new and selected short fiction, “Cry Cry Cry,” a man recalls his cousin’s downward spiral: The cousin becomes a drug dealer; goes to prison where an Aryan gang takes possession of him; and later murders his ex-wife’s new boyfriend. The narrator helps his cousin dispose of the body, then alerts police to the incident; rather than going back to prison, the cousin kills himself.

The esteemed Native American author’s fiction often places his characters in this type of dilemma. Whether they are dealing with angry fathers or decorated ancestors, Alexie’s characters must both honor and atone for those who have come before them. In “Scars,” a man describes his past injuries and explains that anyone fit to lead a nation must be “somebody who is equal parts love and blood.” In “Green World,” a Cervantes-inspired Native American shoots at a windmill that he had a hand in building.

Many of the new stories in Blasphemy are like campfire tales, but instead of inciting fear with ghouls, they haunt the reader with men whose choices lead to misfortune. One can also expect the humor and small redemptions that are present in Alexie’s best work. The opening piece ends with the  narrator, shamed by his community but taking up war-dancing nevertheless. In doing so he proves that he is—like those that have come before him—riddled with weakness but capable of summoning the grit it takes to don feathers and join the dance.

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