With the severity of the Native American plight, escapism is a very realistic and practical defense against misery. This is quite evident in Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven. In this novel, Alexie captures an elaborate depiction of reservation life. The characters are terminally suspended in the abyss commonly known as the Spokane Indian Reservation. As Alexie catalogs their hardships, the characters of the novel indulge in the comforts of alcoholism and unbridled imagination. Through alcoholism, the character Thomas Builds-The-Fire uses the depths of his own creative mind to hide himself in the past.
There is a commonality among the reservation Indians in the novel that centers on alcoholism. The men and women of the Spokane Indian Reservation see their world largely through a thick, alcoholic haze. Drinking is a powerful defense against the stark reality that nothing ever changes on the reservation. In this state of shared depression, this familiar stupor, the reservation Indians cloak themselves in sorrow. If the characters were unable to mend their hardships in reality, through alcohol they most certainly could bend their perceptions of truth. There are several instances throughout the novel in which Alexie describes alcoholic experiences as a positive means of escape. For example, in All I Wanted To Do Was Dance, Victor looks over to his drunken parents and “Everything was familiar and welcome. Everything was beautiful” (87). The warmth of the alcoholic embrace was apparently comforting to Victor, and he goes on to say that his father would “sit with a cooler of beer beside him…his bad breath and body odor covering me like a blanket.”(26). In Every Little Hurricane, Victor depicts his father drinking in a dream; Victor describes the alcohol as “near poison” and a “reservation tsunami”, using very negative connotations. Yet, Victor also portrays his Father as being bold while drunk, with statements like “[He] wasn’t shaped like a question mark…more like an exclamation point” (6). Victor reflects in hindsight that “He thought one more beer could save the world.”(88). So, throughout the novel, Sherman Alexie perpetuates this duality of notions toward alcoholism.
Though alcohol brought release, it also leeched away the sweet vitality of the reservation Indians. In the novel, drinking only serves to ruin relationships, twist lives and magnify their difficulties. Sherman Alexie brings this reality into full view by coupling this theme with every drunken interlude. For example, “I…wished I was drunk enough to pull the trigger” (43). “I got drunk…so I wouldn’t be scared.”(112) and “With every glass of beer…he began to understand too much about fear and failure” (134). These passages indicate not only the reality of such a grim comfort but also a continually deteriorating cycle within the Spokane Indian society.
It’s been more than 10 years since I first read – The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Yet in light of Donald Trump’s recent inflammatory comments about Mexican immigrants, I thought I’d revisit Cisneros’ punchy little novel about finding a sense of belonging. The House on Mango Street is written in an episodic style in which the author uses punchy little vignettes to illuminate the main character, a young girl named Esperanza.
Donald Trump recently issued statements saying that Mexican immigrants are mostly drug dealers and rapists. He’s gotten a mixed bag of feedback from his comments, but I think he is neglecting to recognize everyday people like Esperanza. Yes, she is a fictional character, but born out of the mind of a very real person – Sandra Cisneros. The House on Mango Street opens a window into the mind of a female Mexican immigrant growing up in America. She deals with issues that any young girl would face: an evolving sexuality, feelings of abandonment, and a desire to be free. Yet, when I talk to other readers, people seldom remember that this book is also about social responsibility. Esperanza, the child, wanted to leave Mango Street and everyone else behind. As she grows older, Esperanza identifies more with her community and wants to help sustain it. She strives to engage specifically with other women in the neighborhood to give them a sense of empowerment and support.
That doesn’t sound like Donald Trump’s vision of Mexican immigrants at all. Maybe he should revisit The House on Mango Street.
Michael Crichton is one of my favorite fiction authors. “Jurassic Park” the novel was instrumental in starting my career in screenwriting. When I was a teenager I read the book and then I saw the movie. I was devastated to say the least because of all the great material that never made it into the actual film. That outrage sparked my interest in creative screenwriting and adapting books to films. Admittedly, I thought I could do a better job.
That doesn’t blot out my love for Michael Crichton’s work. Sphere, Andromeda Strain, and Congo are still lingering favorites of mine. His books read like movies. Crichton’s style of writing is certainly science fiction, but it is also unpretentious, similar to the pulp fiction work of an early Aasimov. There is less focus on flowery writing and more focus on situation (plot) and dramatic tension (suspense). That formula works well for the modern reader. This is the new era of pulp fiction and Michael Crichton is certainly an author worth studying.
Now, it’s off to the movies to see Jurassic World, the latest adaption of the billion dollar franchise. It’s insanity: doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Yet, are the producers of Jurassic World really expecting a different result? In its opening weekend, the film has already grossed over 500 million dollars worldwide. It staggers the mind because the plot has been driven over more times than a U.S. highway.
There are times when a poem leaps off the page and flies right into your heart. This is the domain of spoken word poetry. Some of my favorite poems weren’t discovered until someone actually read the words aloud (I Am A Sword, Still I Rise, etc.)
There is currently a refugee crisis in Southeast Asia as ethnic Rohingya migrants flee their native country of Myanmar. Check out this video about the crisis and listen as the voice of the poet speaks to your heart.
There are tons of books about World War II. People love writing about this period of world history. However, there’s a new book called When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning that focuses on the actual books that soldiers carried with them to war. From pulp fiction to modern day classics, soldiers read books to remind them of home and/or pass the monotonous moments between life and death. Manning writes a fascinating chronicle of the importance of those works to the men and women who read them. For more information about Manning’s new book, check out this article by the Smithsonian.