Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories

By Sherman Alexie

(Grove, $27, 480 pages)

Who is this author?

Last week I wrote about the latest novel by Louise Erdrich, our incomparable bard of  Native American America. Well, perhaps not so incomparable, because there is also Sherman Alexie, who has been writing brilliantly in poems, stories and novels over the past 20 years about similar literary territory, this time set in the Pacific Northwest, where he lives. His many honors include a Pen/Faulkner Award, Stranger Genius Award in Literature, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature and the Malamud Award. The starred reviews are already piling up for this collection, marking it as one to which attention must be paid.

What is this book about?

Story collections, by their very nature, are about many things, and Alexie is a master of the form. Included in this book are 15 of his very best tales, such as  “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” “This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona,” “The Toughest Indian in the World” and “War Dances,” along with 15 new ones. Here you will discover a son who sees a very tiny version of his dad’s corpse in his omelet, an insomniac and a manicurist who hook up, two flirty evangelists at a dinner party and a do-gooder who doesn’t do so well among the indelible characters he has invented. In this book, Alexie expands his world from brilliant depictions of contemporary life on the reservation to universal truths about the human condition.

Why you’ll like it:

In “Blasphemy,” you will read about racism, alcoholism, the loss of a culture and the persistence of stereotypes, but you won’t think of the subjects in that clinical way, because Alexie creates such vivid characters that the social  messages he is transmitting go down easy. Have I mentioned how screamingly funny he can be? How bawdy? He’s all of that and more.

What others are saying:

“A poet and fiction writer for adults of all ages, National Book Award winner Alexie is a virtuoso of the short story. His first two blazing collections, “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” and “The Toughest Indian in the World,” established him as an essential American voice. Now, many books later, best-selling Alexie has created a substantial, big-hearted, and potent collection that combines an equal number of new and selected stories to profound effect…. Questions of authenticity and identity abound. . . . Alexie writes with arresting perception in praise of marriage, in mockery of hypocrisy, and with concern for endangered truths and imperiled nature. He is mischievously and mordantly funny, scathingly forthright, deeply and universally compassionate, and wholly magnetizing. This is a must-have collection,” says Booklist in a starred review.

“[A] sterling collection of short stories by Alexie, a master of the form. . . . . The newer pieces are full of surprises. . . . . These pieces show Alexie at his best: as an interpreter and observer, always funny if sometimes angry, and someone, as a cop says of one of his characters, who doesn’t ‘fit the profile of the neighborhood.’ “ says Kirkus Reviews  in its starred review.

“The National Book Award and PEN/Faulkner Award-winner’s latest work combines 15 classics (“The Toughest Indian in the World”; “Salt”; “Indian Education”) with 15 recent stories of varying length and tenor, and the result should attract new converts and invite back longtime fans. Heralded for his candid depictions of life on a reservation in the Pacific Northwest, versatile Alexie traverses familiar territory while also branching out….Alexie hammers away at ever-simmering issues, like racism, addiction, and infidelity, using a no-holds-barred approach and seamlessly shattering the boundary between character and reader. But while these glimpses into a harried and conflicted humanity prod our consciousness, there’s plenty of bawdiness and Alexie’s signature wicked humor throughout to balance out the weight,” says Publishers Weekly in another starred review.

“The combination of Alexie’s classic stories and new offerings make Blasphemy the perfect book for first-time and devoted readers alike. Reading it from beginning to end makes it plain to see why the voices in Alexie’s work have struck a chord with readers for the past twenty years: they occupy that honest place between warmth and sorrow,” says the Barnes & Noble Review.

When is it available?

“Blasphemy” is at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Barbour branch.

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