If it hadn't been for the stories spinning in his head, or the blues in his bones, or that mysterious stranger with the guitar, maybe Thomas Builds-the-Fire wouldn't have gotten the crazy notion of starting an all-Indian rock band. But if he hadn't, Thomas would not have met the seductive Warm Water sisters, Chess and Checkers, or flown to New York City to audition for a record label, or almost been booted off his reservation—or had any of the other picaresque adventures Sherman Alexie conjures up in his poignant and poetic first novel.
In Reservation Blues, Alexie, a critically praised poet and short-story writer, uses his own experiences growing up on the Wellpinit reservation outside Spokane as a springboard for this high-flying, humor-spiked tale of culture and assimilation. As Thomas and the rest of Coyote Springs chase their vision, fueled by little more than hope and "wish sandwiches" (you wish there were something between the slices of bread), Alexie explores the place where dreams and down-and-dirty reality collide.
It takes a special writer to joke one minute about a trio of mongrels named the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and to talk movingly the next of "stews made of random vegetables and commodity food, of failed dreams and predictable tears." It takes a writer like Sherman Alexie. (Atlantic-Monthly, $21)