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Indian Killer (thoughts)

January 8, 2010

Remember when I gushed all over Reservation Blues, Sherman Alexie’s first published novel? Well, now I’ve read his second novel Indian Killer, and turn that gushing up by a factor of ten.

Seriously, my brain was squealing like a twelve-year-old fangirl wearing a Mrs. Edward Cullen t-shirt at a midnight showing. I accessed octaves usually reserved for high sopranos, I loved this book so, so much. It’s a dark book, and it’s full of rage…that’s really what propels the narrative forward. And I’m not going to lie: sad things happen. And if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you’ll know that I’m kind of a pansy about books like that. But even with all of the darkness, I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and I can’t recommend this highly enough, because it some of the most genuine, unforgettable characters I’ve ever read.

So here’s the premise: the book takes place in Seattle, and early in the book a killer attacks a white man, killing and scalping him. Of course, the killer’s branded the ‘Indian Killer,’ and his presence sets off a lot of racial tension between the Native Americans and whites in the city. The book alternates between several characters’ points of view (both white and Indian), several of whom might be the killer, and Alexie captures each character’s voice so perfectly. I don’t often enjoy novels with varying narrators, simply because I often find all of their voices too similar. But with Alexie, you know from the first sentence exactly which character you’re with. And as they develop throughout the narrative, I found myself identifying more and more with every one of them, and hoping that they would be safe.

I suppose you could call this a literary thriller, because there is the mystery of who the killer is (short chapters are told from the killer’s point of view but always using ‘the killer’ and avoiding personal pronouns) and the tension of who might be the next victim. But I worry that that kind of labelling will might make people hesitate to pick it up, when I really want you to all run out and read it right now so we can have a big discussion about it. This is definitely a novel about how race can define us, as much as we might fight against it. And reading it as a white girl, I had a visceral sensation of what it might be like to be Indian in today’s US. But Alexie doesn’t go for any easy, black-and-white delineations. He protrays a wide variety and white and Indian attitudes, and he leaves the moral judgements up to the reader. He’s the kind of author that trusts the reader, that doesn’t spoon-feed us everything, and for that I love him.

I feel like I’m not accurately portraying how readable this book is! It’s about 400 pages, and when I found out I couldn’t renew it, I had two days to read it. So rather than my usual 50 page chunks, I read it 100 pages at a time. And when I was reading it, I was completely dead to the world, the way I used to read when I was younger. The book had me entirely within its grip, and when I realised I had read another hundred pages, I was shocked, because it felt like no time or effort at all. I didn’t read Indian Killer so much as devour it, which was a wonderful feeling. I seriously can’t wait to read everything that Sherman Alexie has written, and I highly, highly advise everyone who hasn’t read him yet to give him a try. He’s simply incredible, and the amount of versality he’s shown in his writing style makes me want to idolise him.

64 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2010 9:21 am

    Sherman Alexie always sounds so good, but I’ve shyed away from Part Time Indian because I know it’s his most autobiographical novel and frankly his life sounds terrifyingly hard. I’d give this one a go before working up the courage I think.

    • January 9, 2010 8:48 am

      I haven’t heard of Part Time Indian; I’m working my way through his backlist in published order. :) But he’s got so many books, I bet you can find one that sounds wonderful for your first try with him!

      • September 25, 2010 3:16 pm

        Oooh, you must read Part Time Indian–I just devoured it in an hour and it’s one of my new favourite YA books ever. It’s always dicey when an author who usually writes for adults switches to YA, but Alexie does it gorgeously–he’s such a good writer I shouldn’t’ve expected less.

  2. January 8, 2010 9:39 am

    I put this on my wishlist a few weeks ago–I was looking at Alexie’s books and adding what I thought looked interesting to start off with. You’ve given such a rave review that I am really looking forward to getting my hands on a copy now. There’s something that really intrigues me about books that explore racial tensions and race in general–especially if those explorations are realistic. I’m so glad you reviewed this. :)

    • January 9, 2010 8:48 am

      I hope you enjoy it! Since I’ve been reading more POC authors, I’ve been reading a lot more ‘race relations’ novels, and it certainly is interesting.

  3. January 8, 2010 9:43 am

    I am not very good with books that deal with murder. I very rarely read them since becoming a mum. I used to love Patricia Cornwell, but I have read one in over 10 years. I think when you become a mum, it is really hard to read genres on the dark side that are very real. I love vampires and ghosts and that type of dark thriller, but shy away from thrillers that are actually possible. Do you know, I only really just realised this after reading your book review. I would love to be able to read books like this, but it is jus too real for me. Perhaps when my girlies grow up, I can get back to real thriller.

  4. January 8, 2010 10:17 am

    I love Alexie. I actually saw him speak at George Mason University this fall, and he’s incredibly awesome. He has written some really great short stories. I have Reservation Blues on the shelf right now. I’ll definitely get to this one too.

    • January 9, 2010 8:49 am

      That’s so neat! I read one of his short stories for free, and I think I’ll grab one of his collections next. :D

  5. January 8, 2010 10:41 am

    I have had Alexie on my TBR since your last review. It looks like I will have to move him up to the top of the list soon! Just reading your review made me want to put it on hold at the library NOW.

  6. January 8, 2010 10:48 am

    I love when I find a book that allows me to read the way you describe as the way you read when you were younger as that’s how I used to read too! Now I find it increasingly rare for me to find these “transportive reads” (as I call them), so I cherish them when I do find them. I’m glad to see you’ve found this wonderful author who never disappoint!

    • January 9, 2010 8:49 am

      I feel the same way, and “transportive reads” is a great name for them!

  7. January 8, 2010 10:50 am

    Wow! The title is….. painfully real. Your review is fantastic… “my brain was squealing like a twelve-year-old fan girl wearing a Mrs. Edward Cullen t-shirt at a midnight showing” LOL….

    This will be one I am going to watch for.

    • January 9, 2010 8:50 am

      One of my friends dragged me to the midnight opening of Twilight when it was released, so I know of what I speak! ;)

  8. January 8, 2010 11:53 am

    The synopses of this book have put me off reading it, but after reading your review I’ll definitely have to give it a try. New mantra: “If Eva could handle it, I can.” ;-)

    • January 9, 2010 8:50 am

      LOL; for sure. The murders are the background of the book, not really its focus. Does that make sense?

  9. January 8, 2010 12:14 pm

    I just added this to my library queue the other day! I love Sherman Alexie!

  10. January 8, 2010 12:21 pm

    I’ve been meaning to read some Sherman Alexie for ages now. This sounds like a great book, but then all his books sound great to me. I need to get around to reading them asap! Especially if it makes you squeal like a 12 year old girl. Lol. Thanks for the review. I’d never even heard of this Alexie book before.

    • January 9, 2010 8:51 am

      Definitely read some Alexie this year!

  11. January 8, 2010 12:41 pm

    How on earth do you pass up a recommendation like that first paragraph? You had me simultaneously laughing (Mrs. Edward Cullen) and itching to get my hands on a copy. I didn’t even read the rest of the review because I want to be surprised.

    • January 9, 2010 8:51 am

      Oh yay-I didn’t know anything going in, and I think that made the experience even more awesome! :D

  12. January 8, 2010 12:45 pm

    Ooh! Your review piqued my interest – I’ll have to add this to my TBR. Many thanks!

  13. January 8, 2010 12:56 pm

    Okay, so this book is sitting on my shelf right now. I must find a way to work this into a challenge read somehow!

    • January 9, 2010 8:53 am

      That’s awesome that you own it! And I just checked your blog; you’re doing the Random Reading Challenge, and this would be perfect for it. ;)

  14. January 8, 2010 1:27 pm

    First off, your definition of how excited you were had me rolling on the floor; very vivid! And, I am going to get this book for my library this weekend! Thank you

    • January 9, 2010 8:53 am

      I really hope you enjoy it! And then we can talk about it! :)

  15. January 8, 2010 2:15 pm

    How can I not put this one on my radar! Thank you for such a great review, Eva.

  16. January 8, 2010 6:36 pm

    I had to add this to my library reserve list as soon as I read your review! Now I’m sad though because my library system only has one copy and it’s checked out, so it might be a while before I get it. I haven’t read a really good thriller in a while.

    • January 9, 2010 8:54 am

      Hopefully the other person will race through it like I did. :) It’s definitely the kind of book that will keep you up at night!

  17. January 8, 2010 7:51 pm

    Two of his earliest short story collections – “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven” and “The Toughest Indian in the World” (my absolute favourite of Alexie’s, and which I recently reread) are also fantastic…and very different from “Indian Killer”. Check them out! Great review. Any book that makes us read like we did when we were younger is a gift!

    • January 9, 2010 8:54 am

      I think I’m going for Lone Ranger next. I love short stories too (and actually that’s how I ‘met’ Alexie), so I’m looking forward to it-especially after your rec!

  18. January 8, 2010 8:28 pm

    I want to read it! I’m longing for a book that I want to devour!

    • January 9, 2010 8:55 am

      I know right? It’s like the Holy Grail of reading, lol.

  19. January 8, 2010 9:07 pm

    Your review makes this book sound so exciting! And my reading of anything having to with Native Americans is so paltry. I should try this as a step outside of my comfort zone!

    • January 9, 2010 8:55 am

      I bet you’ll get addicted to Alexie, and then you’ll have more Native American reading. :) I’d also recommend the author Thomas King-I read his Green Grass, Running Water last year and loved it.

  20. January 8, 2010 9:25 pm

    SHERMAN ALEXIE. Thank you so much! I have been trying all day to remember that damn man’s name, and all I could remember was he wrote about American Indians. I really want to read his stuff this year, and will add this to the list.

  21. January 8, 2010 9:56 pm

    I’m not sure how well I’ll handle the scalping, but I’m intrigued. Maybe I’ll start with The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and work my way to this.

    • January 9, 2010 8:56 am

      The scalping isn’t depicted that graphically; as I said to Ali, the killings are more of the background of the book, while the characters are the forefront.

  22. January 9, 2010 3:57 am

    I wonder how come I’ve never read any Sherman Alexie?? I know he’s written a few short story collections, a lot of poetry and a few novels. Everyone seems to rave about all his work. And yet, I haven’t even read one story of his.

    I’m glad you liked this book. I will definitely have to grab a book of his short stories from the library and give it a try.

    • January 9, 2010 8:56 am

      The New Yorker has at least one of his short stories available for free, so you could try him out today! ;)

  23. January 9, 2010 5:42 am

    Eva this sounds like it is brilliant, gory and queasy but brilliant. I had never heard of this author before and think I may have to add some of their titles to my wishlist, am off to have more of a gander on that certain website (not to buy obviously but to covet!)

    • January 9, 2010 8:57 am

      It’s definitely brilliant! :) And he has quite the backlist, so if you enjoy him, you’ll have lots of books to savour!

  24. January 9, 2010 8:28 am

    Goodness, alrighty then – it’s on my list. I love reading your gushing praise posts.

    • January 9, 2010 8:57 am

      Aww-thanks! I’m hoping that there will be more this year, since I want to focus a lot on reading more of authors I already love. :)

  25. January 9, 2010 11:13 am

    You convinced me, its going straight onto my TBR list! Sounds like really interesting subject matter.

    • January 11, 2010 10:07 am

      Yay! I think everyone should read Alexie. :)

  26. January 9, 2010 5:51 pm

    Ok, you’ve inspired me to put this one on hold (all my library’s copies are out). I loved his YA novel, and your review is very convincing!!

    • January 11, 2010 10:07 am

      I hope you enjoy it when it arrives!

  27. January 9, 2010 7:24 pm

    If that isn’t the best opening to a review I’ve seen in a while, I don’t know what is!

    I’ve never read anything by Alexie, but you’ve certainly piqued my interest.

    • January 11, 2010 10:07 am

      Aww-thanks Alita. You’ve made me blush. :)

  28. January 12, 2010 1:09 pm

    I am a bit worried when I read the title of it, but such a positive rave from Eva calms my mind! Sounds very powerful.

  29. stacybuckeye permalink
    January 14, 2010 9:43 am

    I read my first Alexie book and plan to explore more this year. He’s amazing.


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