Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Top Shelf Short Stories: The Search Engine

Ten Little Indians
by Sherman Alexie

Book Synopsis

Sherman Alexie is one of our most acclaimed and popular writers today. With Ten Little Indians, he offers nine poignant and emotionally resonant new stories about Native Americans who, like all Americans, find themselves at personal and cultural crossroads, faced with heartrending, tragic, sometimes wondrous moments of being that test their loyalties, their capacities, and their notions of who they are and who they love. 

In Alexie’s first story, “The Search Engine,” Corliss is a rugged and resourceful student who finds in books the magic she was denied while growing up poor. In “The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above,” an intellectual feminist Spokane Indian woman saves the lives of dozens of white women all around her to the bewilderment of her only child. “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” starts off with a homeless man recognizing in a pawn shop window the fancy-dance regalia that was stolen fifty years earlier from his late grandmother. 

 Even as they often make us laugh, Alexie’s stories are driven by a haunting lyricism and naked candor that cut to the heart of the human experience, shedding brilliant light on what happens when we grow into and out of each other.

"The Search Engine" Review

I am going to sound completely biased in this review of this short story because I am in love with Alexie's writing. I have been ever since I read the short story, "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona." And the love affair kept on when I read Reservation Blues and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. This man - I can't even. 

I'm always hesitant to read something from Alexie. Did that just shock you after I told you how much I love his writing? Well, it shouldn't. I hesitate to read (hesitate - but I read anyway) because I worry that my love affair will just be a fluke. I mean, what if this story is the one I don't like? What will happen then?

And of course, the answer is nothing. Nothing will happen because, regardless, Alexie is my writer. But I digress.

"The Search Engine" hit me right in the heart, dear reader. It's about a young college sophomore, Corliss, who loves books. Books to Corliss are basically the air she breathes. She relates to books because they have given her the freedom beyond what her family, her past and culture have been able to give her. Alexie spends the first section of the story relating who Corliss is to the reader - and basically having this reader (yup, me) fall in love with the character. 

Corliss finds a poetry book at her library written by a Spokane Indian (like her!) which has never been checked out. After a FANTASTIC moment of questioning the destiny of books that never get checked out, she reads the poetry. Although most of the poetry turns out to be kinda bad, some of it speaks to her. What speaks to her most, however, is the fact that another Spokane Indian was able to get their words out into the world. This is what ultimately starts Corliss on her journey to finding Harlan Atwater, her fellow Spokane Indian. 

What follows is what the reader will almost always find in Alexie's work. Humor, heartbreak, cleverness and the search for what it means to be a Indian in the modern world

*Note: Usually, I write "Native American," but to stay true to Alexie's work, I will follow suit and say "Indian."



About the Author

Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the PEN/Malamud Award for Short Fiction, a PEN/Hemingway Citation for Best First Fiction, and the National Book Award for Young People's Literature, Sherman Alexie is a poet, short story writer, novelist, and performer.

He has published 24 books including What I've Stolen, What I've Earned, poetry, from Hanging Loose Press; Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories, from Grove Press; and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, a novel from Little, Brown Books for Children.

He has also recently published the 20th Anniversary edition of his classic book of stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.

Smoke Signals, the movie he wrote and co-produced, won the Audience Award and Filmmakers Trophy at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival.

A Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, Alexie grew up in Wellpinit, Washington, on the Spokane Indian Reservation. 

Alexie has been an urban Indian since 1994 and lives in Seattle with his family.

Go find out more at: http://fallsapart.com/

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