Book Review: Great Short Stories by Contemporary Native American Writers

Image from Amazon.com

Put out by Dover Thrift Editions and edited by Bob Blaisdell in 2014, this is a slim volume of fourteen short stories. Too slim, probably, considering what it is trying to accomplish: an introduction to “contemporary” (till 2014) Native American (or indigenous) literature (as opposed to mythology. Boy, are there a lot of books on Native American mythology). Then again, the slightness of the volume might attract someone who’s not going to buy some giant, though thorough, anthology. I bought it to choose a couple short stories to include with the other more classically taught short stories in my ninth grade(ish), English, home school co-op class. I ended up choosing two which were short and appropriate (for them), “Train Time” and “The Man to Send Rain Clouds.” It allowed for some discussion of Native history (like after ancient history, sheesh!) and a teensy dose of reality.

I did enjoy reading the collection, myself, but it did seem a little small and, well, mellow. But that’s not fair because the evenness of the writing is a part of the style of many Native American writers. And the negativity? Just part of telling a story from the posture of the oppressed. As we learned in class, the writing of a minority population is often a statement, not just a story. A message. Often political. These stories exemplify many of the messages that have come from Natives in more recent decades: the white man lied to us, he stole our children, robbed them of their culture and abused them, he continues to disrespect us and rape our sacred spaces, he does not take us seriously or acknowledge the truth of history, and on top of all that we are still ravaged by the blow-out of poverty, alcoholism, disease, intermarriage, and forced religion. But you hear all these messages between the lines of fiction as told by various authors with varying amounts of Native blood and Native “experience.”

My favorite story by far was Sherman Alexie’s “War Dances,” but I also thought “Only Approved Indians Can Play in the USA” by Jack D. Forbes and “Borders” by Thomas King were stand-outs. And many of the stories give a reader plenty to both enjoy and to think about. I guess I don’t have a whole lot else to say. If you like short stories and haven’t read much Native literature or are looking for marginalized voices, then this is one way to go. There are also Native magazines and plenty of places to see contemporary Native American art, film, etc. As for movies, I would recommend the quintessential Smoke Signals (also by Sherman Alexie) and there is a list of books to read on my blog HERE.

Until then, enjoy fourteen stories that can’t say it all, but can begin to.

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